Getting used to playing without recently traded forward Luol Deng might take some time for the Chicago Bulls. They'll likely have power forward Carlos Boozer back to help with the void when they visit the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night in a matchup of the worst scoring teams in the NBA.
Chicago makes the short trip north riding a three-game winning streak and with seven straight road victories against the league-worst Bucks.
The post-Deng era began in recognizable fashion for the Bulls (15-18) on Tuesday with a 92-87 home win over Phoenix guided by a strong defensive effort. They held the up-tempo Suns to 40.2 percent shooting despite having nine players available for the latest test in what's turning out to be a trying season.
"We can accept our circumstances as they are, or we can do all we can to change them and turn them into something positive," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "That's one of the things I've admired about our team - they've accepted every challenge."
It was the Bulls' second straight game without Boozer, who has been nursing a sore right knee. Taj Gibson filled in nicely with a pair of double-doubles, including a 19-point, 10-rebound effort against the Suns.
Boozer practiced Thursday and figures to be in the lineup against the Bucks (7-27).
With Deng and his team-leading 19.0 points per game gone, more shots could begin to fall Jimmy Butler's way. That was the case against the Suns with Butler attempting a career-high 18 shots, though the third-year guard hit just four on his way to 13 points.
Butler is shooting 27.8 percent during the three-game winning streak, though he's averaged 17.0 points in his last two visits to Milwaukee, where he attended Marquette.
"Jimmy just has to be himself," Thibodeau told the team's official website. "He already had a big role with our team. He's had some bumps this year because of the injuries, but I think he's finding his rhythm and he's playing at a high level right now. (He needs to) just keep doing the things that he's doing."
Mike Dunleavy started at small forward against the Suns, though it's uncertain whether the Bulls will go for a traditional look with Dunleavy complimenting Boozer and center Joakim Noah going forward. Thibodeau hinted at the possibility of going bigger with Gibson, Boozer and Noah in the lineup.
"It can work and the challenge for us is to make it work," Thibodeau said. "You look at the makeup of your team; you look at what the possibilities are and how you can try to take advantage of somebody.
"You might be able to beat a team because of the unique skill set of Joakim and Taj, where they can guard small guys. You can make it be a power game and pound someone on the boards."
The Bulls are averaging a league-low 91.4 points, though the Bucks aren't far ahead at 92.4.
Milwaukee is an NBA-worst 3-13 at home and has dropped three straight overall after a 101-80 defeat to visiting Golden State on Tuesday. The Bucks scored 12 fourth-quarter points.
"I thought we did some good things, but we didn't do it for the duration of the game," coach Larry Drew said. "We had too many breakdowns, too many lapses and our margin for error is very small."
Forward Ersan Ilyasova led the Bucks with 20 points, but he missed practice Thursday with a sore right hand.
John Henson has missed the last five games with a sprained left ankle and is expected to be a game-time decision for Milwaukee.