MILWAUKEE (AP) — When playing at their best, the Chicago Bulls are a team that can go far in the NBA playoffs. They just aren’t making things easy for themselves along the way.
The Bulls finally came up with the dominant performance they needed to close out a first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, shaking off a surprisingly stubborn team with a 120-66 rout Thursday night that nearly set an NBA playoff record for the largest margin of victory. That performance only came after the Bulls allowed the Bucks to win two games to get back in the series after falling behind 3-0.
Now the Bulls move on to face Cleveland in the next round. And while there may be some lessons to take away from the difficulty they had in getting rid of Milwaukee, a little extra rest would have been nice, too.
“If it was up to us, we would have been good with 4-0,” Bulls star guard Derrick Rose said. “But the two extra games, you’ve got to learn from it. I think it’s going to help us get in a better groove. We’re playing against great competition.”
Mike Dunleavy, who scored 20 points and got under the young Bucks players’ skin with physical play in the series finale, acknowledged the Bulls’ inconsistency this year.
“We have been up and down,” Dunleavy said. “It certainly seems like nothing’s been easy for us this year. When we get going a little bit, we take a couple steps forward, we take a step back. For us, though, tonight hopefully can be a momentum-builder. Something just clicked for this team, and hopefully in the next few days we can keep that going.”
Added Pau Gasol: “We understand what it takes to win a playoff series better now. I think we finally got off to a good start and settled down really well (Thursday). That’s something we needed to do that didn’t happen before, really, throughout the series. Now, we’ve got to keep the same edge, same intensity, same mindset, same approach.”
Now, it seems, the Bulls have caught something of a break — Cavs forward Kevin Love is out for the remainder of the playoffs after dislocating his shoulder, and J.R. Smith is suspended for the first two games of the series.
“Love changes them a little bit,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But the way they’re built, they have great flexibility, whether they have him or not.”
Those losses aside, the task of defending LeBron James still looms large.
“He’s a hell of a player,” Rose said. “So when we play against him, we just got to make it tough, nothing easy for him and just make sure he sees bodies. He has to see bodies because he’s so big (with) speed. Him getting to the rim can cause a lot of problems.”
And Thibodeau says James and Kyrie Irving aren’t the only players the Bucks will have to worry about.
“We’re going to have to be ready from the start,” Thibodeau said. “They are well-rested and sitting there. They have a lot of weapons, it’s a lot more than LeBron and Kyrie. They play very well as a team. They share the ball, have length at the time and are good competitors. We’re going to have to be ready.”
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