CHICAGO – Shabazz Muhammad and fellow reserves Brandon Jennings and Tony Snell took care of the scoring with Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo sidelined by a sprained right ankle.
Muhammad scored 21 points, and the Bucks overcame another sluggish start to beat the Bulls, 118-105, on Friday night.
“The start of the game was a little bit rough for us,” interim coach Joe Prunty conceded. “But I loved what our bench did. They were impressive down the stretch. Good win.”
The lottery-bound Bulls led by as much as 32-20 in the first quarter before Muhammad, Jennings and Snell came up big off the bench.
Snell matched his season-high with 18 points, while Jennings had 16 points and five assists to help the Bucks (38-34) move within a half-game of the seventh-place Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Denzel Valentine led the Bulls with 20 points, and Cameron Payne had a career-high 17 points and six assists. The Bulls have lost four in a row.
Jennings had 10 points and three assists in the second period, which the Bucks opened with a 14-3 spurt for a 38-37 lead.
Snell scored eight points in the third period, which saw the Bucks extend their lead to 90-82.
Late starts and shoddy defense plagued Milwaukee in recent games, and this one was no different.
The Bulls connected on five of their first seven field goal tries to take a 15-4 lead less than four minutes into the game. They took a 34-24 advantage into the second period before the Bucks bench swung the momentum.
“I loved our effort, especially early,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We came into the game with the right mentality. I thought we really set the tone in the first quarter.”
Bucks: The 3-point and paint areas have been the root of their problems on defense of late. At the start of the day, they ranked 23rd in opponents’ 3-point percentage and 24th in defensive rebounding percentage this month. ... G Matthew Dellavedova reported improvement in his sprained right ankle but there remained no timetable for his return.
Bulls: Payne tweaked his right ankle in third quarter. “I had X-rays,” he said. “Everything was fine.” ... Rookie F Lauri Markkanen shook off some pre-game back stiffness and started after a five-game absence. F Paul Zipser (sore right foot) was unavailable. ... G Antonio Blakeney (fractured left wrist) will sit out the rest of the season.
NEXT MAN UP
The Bucks were optimistic that Antetokounmpo’s injury would not complicate their playoff run.
“I can’t give you an honest answer and say exactly when he’s coming back, but I believe it will be sooner rather than later,” Prunty said. “I don’t think it’s worthwhile speculating at this time.”
MORE AIR TIME
Antetokounmpo will be featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday. The segment will trace his unlikely rise from a gangly kid in Athens, Greece, to a 23-year-old NBA franchise player.
Hoiberg was among the legion of Chicago area fans who had a rooting interest in NCAA Tournament game between the hometown Loyola and Kansas State, led by Bruce Weber, the onetime Illinois boss.
“Loyola is just so much fun to watch right now with all the different storylines,” Hoiberg said. “Knowing Bruce, I know he’s going to put a great game plan together. It should be an exciting game, but I gotta go for the Ramblers.”
Bucks: Host San Antonio on Sunday.
Bulls: At Detroit on Saturday night.