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Chicago Bulls vs. Milwaukee Bucks, NBA Playoffs 2015: Series preview, schedule and prediction

The Bulls should have little trouble defeating the overachieving Bucks in the first round.

It's been a dream season for the Bucks, as they exceeded expectations and made the postseason despite losing rookie sensation Jabari Parker and Larry Sanders in the process. Jason Kidd proved to be a great hire as a coach, Khris Middleton emerged as quality wing and Giannis Antetokounmpo continued to improve. For a Bulls team facing higher expectations, things haven't been so easy. Injuries to Derrick Rose and conflicts between the coaching staff and the front office have overshadowed a good run in the regular season.

The Bucks will need to ramp up their already great defense to have a shot at making it a series. Their offense is one of the worst in the league, so they will need to use their length to create turnovers and capitalize on them. Without Brandon Knight -- traded to the Suns at the deadline -- there is no one who can create consistently in the half court so things could get ugly if they can't push the pace. Their depth has been a plus during the regular season but could be negated in the playoffs, when opponents play the starters heavy minutes.

The Bulls have slipped on defense this season but should still be able to control the Bucks' offense. If everyone is healthy, the top of Chicago's roster boasts significantly more proven talent than Milwaukee's, and Tom Thibodeau will ride with his best players as much as he can. On paper this is an easy series for the Bulls, but the Bucks have been surprising teams all year long, so they will need to be focused and ready if they hope to finish it quickly.

THE MATCHUP

  • Bulls (50-32, expected record 50-32) vs. Bucks (41-41, expected record 42-40)
  • Bulls' offensive efficiency: 104.7 | Bucks' offensive efficiency: 100.5
  • Bulls' defensive efficiency: 101.5 1 Bucks' defensive efficiency: 99.3
  • Season series: 3-1 Bulls. Unsurprisingly, all four games were low scoring affairs. The Bulls won the first three and the Bucks took the last one, with Derrick Rose out. 

4 questions that'll decide this series

We asked our Bulls site Blog a Bull and our Bucks site Brew Hoop to give us the lowdown on these two teams.

1. What is your team's biggest advantage in this series?

Blog a Bull: Size. The Bucks have length but their bigs are simply far weaker overall than the Bulls frontcourt quadruplet. Pau Gasol had a 46 point game against them in January, Nikola Mirotic is a matchup nightmare for nearly anybody, and the Joakim Noah + Taj Gibson combination hasn't been great this year but has historically had big playoff performances.

Brew Hoop: Perimeter length. The Bucks took their switch-and-swarm approach to new extremes when they acquired Michael Carter-Williams at the deadline, and after a rocky start MCW appears to now be settling in alongside two-way wings Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The trio's defensive length helped Jason Kidd's club lead the league in steals and opponent turnover rate, which in turn means transition opportunities and easy baskets for a team that otherwise struggles to score in the halfcourt. Offensively, Kidd isn't bashful about using all three to exploit size mismatches on the block, with Aaron Brooks a particularly popular target the last time these teams met in Milwaukee.

2. What is your team's biggest disadvantage in this series?

BH: Aside from their superior size and general talent level, the Bulls also have another unique advantage that no other team would have against the Bucks: a nearby fan base that could pack the BMO Harris Bradley Center with red jerseys in games three and four.

BaB: Athleticism. Milwaukee is more young and active, especially defensively, where their switching could give the Bulls issues and shut down their transition opportunities. On offense, look for them to try and spread out the Bulls, especially Gasol, to not so much shoot threes but get driving lanes.

3. Who is the X-Factor that needs to step up?

BH: After a series of injuries leading up to the all-star break, Ersan Ilyasova has quietly rediscovered his rhythm over the past couple months, putting up over 14 ppg and hitting 43% of his threes since the all-star break. The Bucks will need that and more to throw a scare into the Bulls, whose superior size and depth up front could be overwhelming unless Ilyasova can pull Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic away from the basket defensively.

BaB: Derrick Rose. Milwaukee did get a win recently over Chicago with Michael Carter-Williams overpowering backup Aaron Brooks, but Rose has much more size and strength at the PG position. In his latest comeback, Rose has been a mixed bag, but he helps even when not at his personal best.

4. What is your prediction?

BH: Bulls in 5. Chicago underwhelmed for long stretches during the regular season, but they're a more talented team and will have plenty of support even when they're playing in Milwaukee. A sweep wouldn't be surprising given the home court factor and the Bucks' up-and-down second half, though Milwaukee has been showing signs of life lately and did manage to beat the Bulls sans Derrick Rose a few weeks ago. The biggest X-factor may be the Bucks' bench, which carried them to success in the first half of the season before falling apart with injuries after the all-star break. If Jared Dudley and O.J. Mayo are hitting threes this team becomes rather dangerous, though the same could be said of the Bulls with Mirotic and Tony Snell.

BaB: Bulls in 5. The Bulls just have an overwhelming talent advantage, even with some players banged up. Add in the intangible edge that comes with Bulls fans regularly taking over the Bradley Center and playoff experience, and this is a great game for Chicago to get well in with a look towards the following playoff rounds.

Predictions

Ziller
Flannery
Prada
O'Donnell
Blog-a-Bull
Brew Hoop
IN 5
IN 5
IN 5
IN 6
IN 5
IN 5

SCHEDULE (all times ET)

Game 1: Saturday, April 18. United Center, Chicago IL. 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Game 2: Monday, April 20. United Center, Chicago IL. 8 p.m. (TNT)

Game 3: Thursday, April 23. BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee WI. 8 p.m. (NBATV)

Game 4: Saturday, April 25. BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee WI. 5:30 p.m. (TNT)

Game 5 (if necessary): Monday, April 27. United Center, Chicago IL. TBA.

Game 6 (if necessary): Thursday, April 30. BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee WI. TBA.

Game 7 (if necessary): Saturday, May 2. United Center, Chicago IL. TBA.