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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Joe Cowley

Guard Zach LaVine knows Bulls need punch-first mentality against Bucks

Zach LaVine wasn’t going to predict how the playoff series with Milwaukee would end, but he knows how it needs to begin.

Throw the first punch, and keep punching.

If not?

“I feel like they’ve been a championship-caliber team for a couple years now,’’ LaVine said of the Round 1 showdown. “They’re experienced. We have to come in and try and shake it up a little bit. We have to bring the fight to them, because if we’re back on our heels it’s not going to be good.’’

Or it will simply be like it has all season long when taking on the defending NBA champions. Two competitive games in the first two meetings, and then two laughers in which the Bucks looked like the hunter rather than the hunted.

That’s a trend that’s been going on in this series for a few seasons now. Thankfully, the Bulls have a little less than a week to try and change that, with Game 1 scheduled for Sunday in Milwaukee. A week in which LaVine & Co. not only have to figure out how to slow Giannis Antetokounmpo down, but look in the mirror and do a self-examination of why they played so poorly against elite teams this season.

A lot of film watching, a lot of sweat, but also a ton of soul searching.

“We have a lot of guys that this is going to be new to them, including the group as well, so I think it’s a step in our next direction,’’ LaVine said. “We should be going at it full force and with confidence. Like I said at the end of [the Charlotte loss], we’re a good team. We just have to start playing like it and bring that confidence to it. I’m looking forward to the challenge.’’

Easy for LaVine to say early week.

Milwaukee is a bad matchup for most opposing teams on any given night, but even more so against the Bulls.

They have a defensive stopper in Jrue Holiday that can give fits to either LaVine or DeMar DeRozan, and not need help. They have an underrated rim protector in Brook Lopez, who also has the ability to pull the Bulls defense out because of his three-point shooting. Khris Middleton is a clutch shot-maker, and then there’s Antetokounmpo: A two-way elite force that the Bulls haven’t been able to slow down in years.

Every team has flaws, but Milwaukee has very few.

“They’re a very vet-savvy team,’’ LaVine said. “Obviously, they play with a lot of confidence, physicality. They’ve got Brook at the rim, obviously Giannis coming weak-side and Jrue Holiday as well. They’ve got a really good team, a complete team. I think we do as well. We’ve just got to attack them and figure out ways to beat them.’’

A process that will start on Tuesday, with the Bulls getting Monday off to rest up, both mentally and physically. The hope is LaVine (left knee) and Alex Caruso (back) will be full participants in all the practices, but that remained an unknown.

What was known? Milwaukee will not allow the Bulls to have in-game slippage without making them pay. If the underdog doesn’t come in with a punch-first mentality, a sweep is not only a reality, but very likely.

“I think it’s more about us and how we play,’’ second-year forward Patrick Williams said. “We can’t really worry about them. We have to lock in to our habits. I think it’s more making sure we’re connected offensively and defensively. We’ve shown when we are connected on both ends of the floor and all the guys are connected, we’re pretty good. At that point it just turns into, ‘Let’s play.’ ‘’

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