Preview: Bucks vs. Bulls

MILWAUKEE — Jabari Parker returns to Milwaukee on Friday night when the Chicago Bulls take on the Bucks in a nationally televised contest on ESPN.

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Parker, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft, was expected to combine with Giannis Antetokounmpo to form the cornerstone of a Bucks team looking to rise out of mediocrity and return to relevance in the Eastern Conference.

Instead, Parker spent most of his first four NBA seasons watching from the sidelines thanks to a pair of season-ending ACL injuries that limited him to 183 games.

While he spent time rehabbing those injuries, Milwaukee parted ways with the 6-foot, 8-inch forward last summer, rescinding their $4.3 million qualifying offer so Parker could sign a two-year, $40 million contract with the Bulls, his hometown team.

Parker began the season coming off coach Fred Hoiberg’s bench moved into the starting lineup for an Oct. 31 game against the Nuggets in place Chandler Hutchison. He’s been a starter since and comes to Milwaukee averaging 14.9 points on 43.8 percent shooting with 6.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists over his last seven games.

The numbers are good, but they haven’t done much to change the Bulls’ fortunes. Chicago brings a 4-11 record into its first meeting this season with the Bucks, who lead the Central Division with a 10-4 mark.

Still, Parker said he has no hard feelings over the way things went.

“Those are my guys,” Parker said. “I love to see them do well. I’m happy for them. It’s very good.”

Parker’s former teammates will be looking to bounce back after a 116-113 loss to Memphis on Wednesday. The league’s top-scoring team coming into the game was held to 19 points in the opening quarter and shot 34.1 percent in the first half — including a 4-for-23 showing from beyond the arc. The Bucks rallied and took an eight-point lead early in the fourth before fading down the stretch in their first home loss of the season.

“I think we could’ve played with more energy, and could have done better executing,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

It was just the latest uneven performance for a team that’s been spinning its wheels after a red-hot start to the season. Milwaukee won it’s first seven games in impressive fashion but has alternated losses and victories since, which has left Budenholzer admittedly puzzled.

“That’s been on my mind a little bit,” he said after a Thursday morning practice session. “We obviously need to continue that cycle for one more game and then break it. Just that attention to detail, that focus every day, I think those are the things that are going to get you over the top where you can start stringing together success and feeling good.”

The Bucks are in good position to turn things around against Chicago, a team they’ve beaten in each of the last two meetings, but also as they play the second contest of a season-long six game homestand.

“We’ve just got to stay focused, stay locked in as a team,” Antetokounmpo said. “We’ve been winning, losing, winning, losing, but I think overall we’ve had a great season. But we can do better. We can do a lot better.”