No shot against the Bucks? We call Bull. It’s time to make the bully crumble

The Bulls have been comically terrible against the NBA’s championship contenders, one-upping themselves with each cringeworthy display of capitulation and deference. See? They have the champs right where they want them.

SHARE No shot against the Bucks? We call Bull. It’s time to make the bully crumble
Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls

The Bulls haven’t beaten the Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo in action since 2017.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

You probably haven’t heard, but the Bulls went 0-4 against the Bucks during the regular season.

No, really, it’s true.

But we kid, of course, because the utter one-sidedness of the season series is all anyone’s talking about as the teams near their head-to-head playoff opener Sunday in Milwaukee. Best of seven? Please. It might be an upset if this first-round series makes it to five games, let alone turns into something compelling.

That seems to be the common thinking, anyway.

These Bulls have been comically terrible against the NBA’s championship contenders, one-upping themselves with each cringeworthy display of capitulation and deference. They are 0-12 against the Heat, Bucks and 76ers and 2-21 against the top four seeds from both conferences. Who could’ve known a 10-point victory against the Mavericks in November would endure as a season highlight?

It’s the defending champs, however, whose dominance of the Bulls is most extreme. Cruel, almost, in its unrelenting thoroughness. We could talk about the 94-90, 118-112, 126-98 and 127-106 losses to the Bucks this season until we’re Good Land Green in the face, but this sordid story goes back much further than that.

Do you know when the last time was that the Bulls beat the Bucks with superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo on the court? Try December 2017. In case you’ve forgotten that magical night, close your eyes and imagine a starting lineup of Kris Dunn, Justin Holiday, Denzel Valentine, Robin Lopez and Lauri Markkanen. Or, better yet, don’t. Besides, it was Nikola Mirotic who stole the show off the bench, scoring 24 points. Benchmate Bobby Portis — now a Bucks fan favorite — had a decent night, too, and possibly still had some of Mirotic’s face imprinted on his right fist.

Oh, what fight those Bulls had! But we kid again; they were 55-loss punching bags. Here’s the point: The Bulls are 1-16 against the Bucks since then. And the only game they won was the regular-season finale in 2021, with Antetokounmpo and the rest of the Bucks’ starters luxuriating in street clothes. You really want to count that ‘‘W’’? Feel free.

In case you were wondering why the Bucks tanked their regular-season finale, sitting their starters to avoid the Nets and get the Bulls, you can stop wondering. Not that it’s likely you were.

So, is this hopeless for the Bulls?

The short answer is yes. Unless . . . what? A miracle? Lightning in a bottle? The injury bug? Bad sushi rolled by a Bucks chef?

No, it isn’t hopeless. Not entirely. How does the saying go? That’s why they play the games.

We’ve seen some decent-sized playoff upsets in recent years, haven’t we? The Bulls knocking off the champs wouldn’t be that much more surprising than the short-handed, fifth-seeded Hawks eliminating the top-seeded 76ers in the second round in 2021. In 2020, the fifth-seeded Heat handled the top-seeded Bucks in five games. A No. 6, the Pelicans, swept a No. 3, the Trail Blazers, in 2018.

It has been awhile, though, since we’ve seen a truly titanic sinking of a favorite few would’ve believed was even slightly at risk. As much as it pains us to bring it up — do you already know where we’re going with this? — the No. 1 Bulls being eliminated by the No. 8 76ers in 2012 was such an occasion, though it took a devastating injury to Derrick Rose for it to unfold. But only a year before that, the No. 1 Spurs had no such excuse for falling to the No. 8 Grizzlies. It was one of those all-too-rare series that takes on a life of its own, one preconceived notion flying out the window after another.

What happens when you stand up to a bully in the center of the schoolyard? Sports isn’t Hollywood; usually, you get knocked around all over again. Occasionally, however, the bully crumbles. Like the 61-victory Spurs of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili did that one time. Like the last good Blackhawks team did, a No. 1 seed swept out of the first round by the out-of-nowhere Predators in 2017. Like the 2018 Bears did, a 12-4 team losing to the run-of-the-mill wild-card Eagles.

Can the Bulls do this? Is there any chance, any chance at all, the Bucks have a double-doink in them?

‘‘We’re confident of who we are,’’ Bucks center Brook Lopez told reporters Thursday, ‘‘not overconfident or cocky or anything, but we’re proud of the team and the players that we are. . . . 

‘‘I think it’s business as usual. I don’t know if you’re going to see a lot faze us.’’

That’s pretty much how we’ve got it figured, too. Ah, well, there’s only one way to find out. Breathe in. Breathe out. To the center of the schoolyard we go.

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