The Bulls will be on the opposite side of a familiar situation tonight when they square off against the Milwaukee Bucks. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet with Bulls Pregame Live.
It's been an eventful past few days for Milwaukee, as Monday night head coach Scott Skiles mutually agreed with the organization to part ways after four-plus seasons at the helm. Replacing Skiles is former assistant Jim Boylan, whose only other head coaching experience came in 2007, when the Bulls fired Skiles on Christmas Eve. At that point, the 2007-'08 Bulls had underachieved to a 9-16 record, but Skiles had led the Bulls to three straight playoff appearances. His situation in Milwaukee was almost reversed, as the Bucks have missed the playoffs the past two seasons but surprisingly had played .500 basketball (16-16) as of Monday.
As is the case in most situations when a head coach is dismissed, the Bucks played inspiring basketball last night, coming from behind to beat the Suns 108-99. It broke a four-game losing streak, one that came on the heels of back-to-back home wins over Brooklyn and Miami. The roller coaster of a season through 33 games has included two contests against Chicago -- the Bulls were victorious in Milwaukee, and two days later the Bucks edged out a one-point win at the United Center.
While the Bucks' scouting report begins with their talented backcourt -- Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis have combined for better than 37 points and 11 assists per game -- one of the biggest changes that could come from Skiles' departure is new life for forward Ersan Ilyasova. One of the most improved players in the league last year, Ilyosova signed a five-year, 45 million deal this offseason to stay in Milwaukee, choosing the Bucks over the Nets and Raptors.
But a sluggish start made him a victim of Skiles' inconsistent rotations, moving him to the bench in favor of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Tobias Harris, Marquis Daniels and John Henson. Nine different players have started in the Bucks frontcourt this year, but Boylan's first move as interim head coach was to place Ilyasova back in the starting lineup. He responded with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in the win over Phoenix, and while his minutes (26) were near his season average (22.8), Skiles leaving could be just what the fourth-year forward from Turkey needs to revive his slow start.
Staying in the frontcourt, the Bulls also will have to deal with an improved Henson. The No. 14 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft made a slow acclimation to the NBA, but his minutes have increased the last week-and-a-half and the results have been impressive. In his last four contests, the 22-year-old Henson has averaged 12.3 points and 12.0 rebounds in 23.4 minutes, including a 20-point, nine-rebound effort in a loss to the Spurs last week.
The Bulls out-rebounded the Bucks in both contests this year, including two big double-doubles from Carlos Boozer (22 and 19; 19 and 11) but should see an improved frontcourt tonight at the United Center. Both Ilyasova and Henson are making strides, and Larry Sanders -- who leads the NBA with 3.1 blocks per game -- could join the pair in making the difference in this Central division matchup. The Bucks enter the contest 2.5 games behind the Bulls, who are one-half game behind the leading Pacers, winners in eight of their last 10 games.