Give Patrick Williams the pass.
After all, the Bulls forward is just 20 years old, and had just scored a career-high 35 points in the regular-season finale.
So of course there was a little bit of chest beating when asked about the upcoming playoff meeting with the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks.
“I don’t think that we see ourselves as underdogs,” Williams said confidently. “I think this team definitely can use that as fuel like we did early in the season when guys were saying this team wouldn’t be as good.
“I don’t think we’ll need it. I think we’re all ready for this opportunity, ready for this series.”
That’s great, but the head-to-head matchups say different:
Nikola Vucevic vs. Brook Lopez
The last time the two bigs had a postseason showdown was in 2020, while Vucevic was still wearing his mouseketeer ears with the Orlando Magic.
Not only did Vucevic take Lopez out to that lunch, but made Lopez buy. Yes, Lopez’s Bucks team won the series in five games, but don’t blame Vucevic. He dominated Lopez, and whoever else Milwaukee threw his way, averaging 28 points and 11 rebounds per game, while shooting 50.4% from the field and 40.5 from three. Meanwhile, Lopez wasn’t awful at 13.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, but was outplayed in every way by “The Vooch.”
That’s great for the Bulls, but was also two years ago. Vuicevic is now a third option in this offense, doesn’t get the touches that he did in Orlando, and just let Lopez go 28 and seven in an April 5 meeting.
Patrick Williams vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Forget Williams winning this matchup. It’s more about can he even survive it? Because of injuries, the two have only squared off really twice, and Antetokounmpo wasn’t in playoff mode.
If Williams is dominated early on, Bulls coach Billy Donovan can throw Javonte Green, Derrick Jones Jr. or even Alex Caruso at him, but there will be no real answer for one of the more dominant two-way players the NBA has going right now.
DeMar DeRozan vs. Khris Middleton
The luxury Milwaukee has is that Middleton is a solid enough defender and long enough to irk DeRozan somewhat, but if it’s not going the Bucks’ way, either Wesley Matthews or Jrue Holiday can switch over and make life very uncomfortable for the Bulls’ leading scorer.
Meanwhile, Middleton is an underrated late-game closer and no stranger to big shots. He seems to coast through the regular season, get his 20 a night, and then flip a switch come playoff time. Look no further than the 40 points he dropped on Phoenix in the Finals last year in Game 4. That should concern the Bulls.
Alex Caruso vs. Wesley Matthews
Matthews closed the regular season in the starting lineup for Milwaukee, giving them an elite defender next to Holiday, even at the age of 35. There’s a good chance that the Bucks could cross-match and put Middleton on Caruso because the Bulls guard was not a real offensive threat, but neither is Matthews.
Both Caruso and Matthews are in there for defensive purposes, and at this point in their careers Caruso is just a bit better and slightly more versatile on who he can guard.
Zach LaVine vs. Jrue Holiday
LaVine can fall out of bed and score 24 in an NBA game. The problem is that Holiday has one-on-one lock-down ability to put LaVine right back to sleep.
It doesn’t mean Holiday will be guarding LaVine for 35 minutes a game, however. Like they did in the last two regular-season meetings, Milwaukee will give DeRozan and LaVine each a healthy dose of Holiday at some point.
With all things equal, Holiday has played in a Finals spotlight and knows what it takes to win playoff games. This will be LaVine’s first career playoff appearance in Year 8 of his NBA journey.
This is where the series could be lost for the Bulls, especially from an experience standpoint. While the champs can throw Grayson Allen, George Hill, Pat Connaughton, Serge Ibaka, and of course former Bull Bobby Portis out there, Donovan has a rookie in Ayo Dosunmu, a streaky shooter in Coby White, and then undersized bodies like Green and Jones.
The only bench player with championship pedigree for the Bulls is backup center Tristan Thompson.
Series Prediction: The Bulls get Game 3 at home thanks to their “Big Three” getting hot, but the hope is short-lived. Milwaukee 4-1