For the first time in two weeks the Bulls take to the United Center with a chance to reclaim first place from the visiting Milwaukee Bucks tonight on Comcast SportsNet.
A five-game road trip, including four against Western conference opponents, proved a tall order for the Bulls, which went just 2-3 in a 10-day span away from the United Center. They did, however, break their first three-game losing streak in three seasons under Tom Thibodeau with a 93-86 win against the Bucks in Milwaukee to close the road trip.
Carlos Boozer scored 22 points and grabbed 19 rebounds to lead the Bulls, while Richard Hamilton contributed a season-high 22 points of his own.
As the Bulls' health starts trending in the right direction -- Kirk Hinrich (hip) averaged 27.6 minutes on the road trip after missing a Nov. 12 matchup with the Celtics -- the Bucks have concerns as point guard Brandon Jennings left Saturday night's game after rolling his right ankle in the closing minutes of the Bucks' loss. If Jennings can't suit up, it's a major loss for a team that has relied on the 23-year-old's hot start to take first place.
Jennings, who will become a restricted free agent next season, is averaging 17.5 points, a career-best 7.5 assists and 3.5 steals, the latter of which leads the NBA. He had 23 points and 7 assists Saturday night against Chicago, but is listed as questionably by the Bucks' official website.
Beno Udrih would get the start if Jennings can't go, but shooting guard Monta Ellis would be the one to take on a larger role. The combo guard has struggled out of the gates in 2012, shooting just 40 percent from the field and 20 percent from beyond the arc. There were concerns as to how Jennings and Ellis, similar players in skill set, would work together when the Bucks traded former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Bogut for Ellis, but the two have yielded positive results in the win column despite Ellis' drop-off in stats.
The Bucks have managed to maintain their lead atop the Central division despite a major disappointment from Ersan Ilyosova, who signed a 45 million extension this offseason. A breakout performer a year ago, Ilyosova averaged 13.0 points and 8.8 rebounds but has reached double-figures just three times in 2012, and in those games has failed to score more than 11 points. His rebounding numbers are down as well, which has hurt Milwaukee on the interior. Saturday night Boozer and the Bulls collected 20 offensive rebounds, a number which could be reachable again at home.
Larry Sanders has salvaged some of the Bucks' inside woes, but a jumbled frontcourt that also includes rookie John Henson, Joel Pryzbilla and Sam Dalembert is a weakness that Boozer and Joakim Noah should exploit again tonight.
It's only November, but the Bucks (6-5) sit 12-game in front of the Bulls, and with first place on the line the Bulls would like to win one tonight in front of their home crowd. Tune into Comcast SportsNet for all your Bulls' coverage tonight, with Bulls Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. and Bulls Postgame Live following the contest.