CHICAGO (AP) – The Chicago Bulls are about to face LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and even they aren’t quite sure which team will show up.
That’s because they were as inconsistent as anyone during the season.
The ups and downs continued in the first round against Milwaukee, so good luck trying to figure out which version of the Bulls will take to the court in Cleveland on Monday night.
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Will it be the one that dropped Game 5 at home against the Bucks? Or the one that delivered one of the most lopsided playoff beatings ever in Game 6 at Milwaukee?
”You’d get paid a lot of money if you could figure that one out,” said Mike Dunleavy Jr., who on Saturday received a flagrant-one foul for his blow to Michael Carter-Williams in the finale but won’t be suspended. ”Obviously, we’ve been up and down this year for a myriad of different reasons. But the main thing is we advanced from the first round. We played great in Game 6. We’re hopeful we can keep that going. If we don’t, we can look back and say, `Hey, what did we do to make that happen and let’s see if we can kind of bottle up and do it again.”
The Bulls are as tough to figure as any team.
They came into the season with high expectations thanks to Derrick Rose’s latest return and the addition of Pau Gasol in free agency, but things did not quite go according to plan.
They fought through a long list of injuries to finish with 50 wins even though they had their desired starting five for just 22 games. Management set minutes restrictions for Rose, Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich hoping the Bulls would be healthy for the playoffs after running out of steam in the postseason last year. But continuity remains an issue.
The Bulls can look brilliant one moment and brutal the next, capable of beating anyone and losing to anyone.
There were impressive wins over Golden State, Memphis, San Antonio and Houston as well as confounding losses to the Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando, Sacramento, Indiana and Detroit.
The Milwaukee series followed a similar pattern.
The Bulls built a 3-0 lead with Rose playing at a high level and Jimmy Butler scorching the Bucks, only to blow two chances to put the series away.
They committed 28 turnovers in Game 4 at Milwaukee and lost by two. Rose had his dribble stolen by Khris Middleton and lost Jerryd Bayless on a backdoor layup off an inbounds pass. In Game 5, they shot 4 for 22 on 3-pointers and lost by six at home.
But in Game 6 at Milwaukee on Thursday night, the Bulls did not mess around. They slammed the door on the Bucks, beating them 120-66 and finished four points from the NBA playoff record for largest margin of victory.
Chicago shot 51 percent and hit 15 of 30 3-pointers. Milwaukee did not have a single player score in double figures, while the Bulls’ starters all had at least 11 points.
Clearly, Chicago was playing at a high level. But which team will show up against Cleveland?
”When you look at the playoffs, you see how tough all the games are,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. ”Watching Atlanta-Brooklyn, it’s the same thing. There’s not a big difference between (the No. 1 seed) and eight. You have to play for 48 minutes. We’re up 3-0 with the ball with 20 seconds to go and a chance to close it out in four, and (if) you don’t do it, that can be the difference, too. Hopefully, you do that each and every game. You’ve got to give your best and play hard and be smart, take your best shot.”
Notes: Dunleavy said he did not think Milwaukee F Giannis Antetokounmpo deserved to be penalized for running him over during Game 6 and insisted there were no hard feelings. The league suspended Antetokounmpo one game. ”Nice kid, going to be a really good player. Doesn’t change my feelings on wanting to try and get over to Mykonos,” Dunleavy said. Antetokounmpo is actually from Athens.