Last Shots: Bulls 115, Bucks 109

MILWAUKEE – The Milwaukee Bucks lost their second game in a row Friday night to the Chicago Bulls 115-109. Forwards Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton were the leading scorers with 29 points each.

The Bucks were shorthanded on the night, only dressing 11 players. All 11 saw time on the court in the first half as well.

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Sixteen last shots for the 16 rebounds hauled in by Antetokounmpo in the loss.

1. The Bulls entered the game having won their last four games. That winning streak coincided with forward Nikola Mirotic returning from facial fractures sustained during a fight with teammate Bobby Portis during preseason training camp.

2. For much of the season, Chicago had been one of the worst teams in the NBA. They started off the season with a 3-20 record. They’re still one of the lesser teams in the league strictly on a talent basis, but they’re playing much better basketball now than they have all season.

3. Milwaukee had been hot as of late as well. The Bucks dropped their previous game against New Orleans on Wednesday night, but had won 6-of-7 prior to that. It seemed as if the Bucks were really finding their stride and becoming acclimated to Eric Bledsoe’s game.

4. Antetokounmpo continues to establish himself as an MVP candidate. He had 29 points and 16 rebounds against the Bulls. There are still areas where he needs to improve his game in order to get to the next level of stardom. An area where he has significant room for growth is his 3-point shooting. Antetokounmpo was 1-of-3 behind the arc against the Bulls, but the effect it has isn’t one that necessarily shows up on the stat sheet on a nightly basis.

5. Right now, Antetokounmpo has to deal with more defensive players closer to the rim and his teammates don’t have the necessary room to operate at times. It’s easier for the opposition to disrupt the flow of Milwaukee’s offense. That was something that the Bucks struggled with against the Bulls, specifically guard Malcolm Brogdon and Bledsoe.

6. Brogdon and Bledsoe both struggled to find a rhythm offensively. They combined for 18 points on 8-of-25 shooting. The tandem also turned in a 1-for-9 night from behind the 3-point arc. Bledsoe had five turnovers as well.

7. “Honestly, it was just one of those nights for me and Eric [Bledsoe],” Brogdon said. “We were out of rhythm. I didn’t think they did a specifically good job on us, there’s just games where you’re out of rhythm. It happens.”

8. When Antetokounmpo does develop that shot from distance he’ll become nearly impossible for opposing defenses to deal with. Until then, he’s going to have less room to operate because defenders will be able to sag off him when he’s in possession above the 3-point line.

9. The Bucks still managed to find plenty of open looks throughout the night that didn’t go down. One of the more oft used clichés in the NBA is that it’s a make or miss league. That was the case on Friday night.

10. As a team, the Bucks shot 48% from the field, which is considered a good offensive night. Their struggle came from deep where they shot 27% from long distance. They also shot 69% from the free throw line.

11. “We just have to keep shooting,” coach Jason Kidd said. “You have to believe the next one is going in. We had a lot of wide open shots that just didn’t go down for us tonight and you have to play perfect when you are down, defensively and offensively. We couldn’t get stops, nor could we make open shots tonight.”

12. On the defensive end, the Bucks had trouble stopping the one-two punch of Portis and Mirotic. They had 27 and 22 points, respectively to lead Chicago. Since Mirotic returned to the floor from injury they’ve been one of the best two player combinations in the NBA. In the 10 minutes those two were on the floor together against Milwaukee the Bulls outscored the Bucks by seven. The Bulls also shot 60% and reached the free throw line 13 times in that stretch.

13. “Wow, it’s been crazy to be honest,” said Mirotic on the duo of he and Portis being as effective as they have been. “We did play last year a little bit together, but it is not the same now. We both step up and I think we learn how to play with each other during the game. We need to give credit to Fred [Hoiberg] for that. Fred [Hoiberg] is the one who is putting us in the right spots. Right now, we are both playing some minutes together because it’s working. The team is playing well. From my side, I’m just wishing that we continue what is the best for the team.”

14. Typically, this would be a non-story if it were the case with 99% of potential two-man combinations on NBA rosters currently. What makes this so odd is the incident that happened during the preseason. Portis punched Mirotic in the face during an altercation during a preseason practice and caused him to miss the first 23 games of the season with two fractures in his face. Portis was suspended for eight games for his actions.

15. After the game Mirotic said that they communicate on the floor but still haven’t talked off of it. That alone makes it one of the stranger stories in basketball.

16. The Bucks hit the road for the second night of a back-to-back tomorrow in Houston. The Rockets beat the Spurs on Friday night at home. They’re sporting the best record in basketball and have won their last 12 games.

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