Game 4 Preview: Trail Blazers vs. Bulls--Maurice Lucas Edition

Game Time:  5:00 Pacific   TV:  NBA TV and CSNW

Fair warning:  My heart really isn't into this preview after getting the news that Maurice Lucas died.  More on that in a second.  Here are the basics on the Bulls.

  • Like the Blazers they're an emerging team, expected to do well in their division and conference.
  • Derrick Rose is on fire to start the season, averaging 33.5 ppg, 6.5 assists, and 5 rebounds.  For those counting, that's nearly a point per minute in a starting role.  The Blazers haven't seen anything like him this year.  He's quick, skilled, relentless, springy...everything you could ask on the offensive end.  He's a game-changer.
  • Joakim Noah is also tearing it up, sporting a gaudy 18 rebound per game average.  You read that right.  When your rebounding rate can vote and get into R-rated movies on its own you are Da Man.  He's also scoring 16.5 a night so far.  Of the two Chicago studs, Noah is the more important for the Blazers to contain.  They can absorb Rose's scoring and still win but if they lose their grip on the boards Portland will go down to this team.  Greg Oden has had his way with Noah in the past but he's not healthy yet, of course.  The other Blazer bigs will need to get pushy and dirty.
  • With Carlos Boozer injured, young Taj Gibson and slightly older Luol Deng round out the forward corps.  Gibson is a rebounder.  Deng is a former star-in-waiting whose waiting has turned to rot.  He's started the year horribly, shooting barely over 30% from the field, shooting 20% from the arc.  He still gets big minutes.  He can break out at any given time...something for Portland to watch.  As long as you keep him on the perimeter you can live with whatever he does.
  • The Bulls feature a hodgepodge of competent guards.  Keith Bogans starts because of his defense.  He's their go-to stopper.  He can hit the three when necessary.  Kyle Korver hits threes whether they're necessary or not.  Ronnie Brewer is a jack-of-all-trades-except-shooting but, like Deng, his field goal percentage has gone into the toilet.  Unlike Deng his minutes have suffered because of it.  
  • The most dangerous facet of the Bulls' game for the Blazers is their dominant rebounding.  Just about everybody who plays major minutes can board, much like Portland.  The Blazers will need to keep Noah off of the offensive glass and limit the Bulls to one shot.  Marcus Camby needs to stay in the game!  Chicago doesn't shoot all that well and as long as Deng is on the outs doesn't have a huge scoring punch.  They're abysmal from the arc.  The Blazers need to push them outside.  Preventing easy buckets (layups, dunks, run-outs that any idiot could make) will be a huge key.  If they don't score easy all of those Rose points won't tip the balance.  Since matching or containing Rose is a dicey prospect it's better to absorb whatever he dishes out and keep his teammates from winning the game.
  • It'll be interesting to see if fatigue catches up with the Blazers if they continue relying on fourth-quarter prowess to carry them.
  • Portland only needs to win one of the next two to have a successful trip.  Both Milwaukee and Chicago are good teams though.  These aren't yesterday's Bulls and Bucks.

Having gotten that out of the way, let me say how sad I was to hear of Maurice Lucas passing.  It wasn't entirely unexpected, but it's hard to lose childhood heroes.  

I've told the story before of being a young child absolutely in awe, having the chance to meet Lucas and Bill Walton at a bank-sponsored autograph session.  I had my nose pressed to the car window for the entire trip to the Lloyd-Center-area bank (about 20 minutes from my childhood home) half-dreaming and half-not-believing that I could actually see these two Blazers...the BEST Blazers.  They had won the title the year before and blown my mind.  My brain just couldn't contain itself during that car ride, nor could my heart.  I can't imagine the anticipation in my eyes, although now looking at the eyes of my two-year-old when he gets excited I can almost envision it...innocence and awe mixed together.  Alas when I got to the front of the line and actually saw them, pen and paper clutched in my little hands, I was unable to move.  I wasn't scared, although even when they were seated I could tell these guys were huge.  I just didn't dare to approach.  I might as well have been treading on holy ground, defined by the shadow cast by these two men.  They looked at me.  I stared at them, frozen, wishing that the moment would last forever.  After a moment, though, I realized that I was supposed to be approaching them like everyone else had.  When I couldn't my awe turned to timidity, which quickly started to turn to shame.  I couldn't fail in front of THEM!  Not these two!  I think they saw the flicker in my eyes because they looked at each other and laughed...a big, out-loud kind of laugh.  I now suspect that it was the laugh you laugh as you remember being an innocent little kid yourself and you're amazed that, even though you're still that same person inside, you're now the kind of man that little kids freeze and worry about failing in front of.  They didn't speak to each other.  They just shared their laugh and a mutual understanding and then invited me into it.  They both reached out their hands and said, "Come here, guy.  It's OK."  With a slight shove from my sister I walked up to them.  I think it was Walton who tousled my hair and Lucas smiled the biggest smile and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Well, duh!  I wanted to be a Blazer, like them!  They smiled and said they thought I could make it and then they sent me on my way.  I glowed all of the way home and for days after.

Years later I interviewed Lucas briefly at Summer League.  He was a straight shooter.  He would either answer you or not but if he did, he would give you a complete answer.  He was the first guy I heard say straight up that Oden had gifts but a had a ways to go.  I never told him about that childhood moment, of course.  He probably would have thought it was a silly thing for a grown man to remember or hold onto.  But afterwards I thought things had come full-circle.

Of course his on-court accomplishments with the Blazers were legendary.  It was against these same Chicago Bulls in the first round of the championship-year playoffs that Luke grabbed the whistle of a scab referee and told him if he made one more bad call he'd wring his neck.  The abuse of Darryl Dawkins is chronicled via video in a post below.  Averaging a 20-point double-double didn't hurt.  And I loved that a decade after his glory years, Lucas was able to finish his career in one last year as a Blazer.

Naturally you hear a lot about the off-court side of Maurice as well.  He wasn't always praised, nor liked in some quarters.  The media magnifying glass has revealed enough about today's players to show that occurrence to be common.  All I know is that every time I saw the man he was upright and that's how I'll remember him.

It's hard to see something like cancer take one of your childhood heroes, a guy with a body and a will that seemed indomitable.  I'm not going to lament that it shouldn't have happened to him.  People are people no matter what they do.  I know people, many of them here, who have suffered with this disease.  A basketball player shouldn't necessarily be spared any more than a housewife or accountant or grandmother or mechanic.  Everybody has a calling.  Everybody brings something into the world.  But I will say this.  No disease, no parting, can take away the gift that watching Maurice Lucas gave...a gift shared with me and I'm sure with Blazer fans across the globe.  Cancer can't touch that.  The passing of time can't take it away, or at least can't take away the fruits that have grown from it.  Who would dare to say what effect those childhood glories and heroic stories had in shaping the people we are?  How much different would our lives be had Lucas and Walton and company not done what they did?  Certainly I would not be speaking to you now in this manner, in this forum.  I am the person I am, at least in part, because Maurice Lucas was who he was.  Where there is incongruity between the powerful, proud, graceful figure and the disease, that powerful, graceful figure wins out no matter what the news says today.  What he did on that court in the public eye is too strong to conquer.  One more time, one more victory, one more chance to slowly applaud and say, "Thank you Luke.  Thanks for everything."

Thoughts and prayers are with Maurice Lucas' family, and thanks for sharing him with us.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com) 

BlogaBull

Jersey Contest Form  Just pick a current Blazer for the final question.  Also please make sure you enter each game under the exact same name and e-mail address, otherwise your score will not accumulate correctly.  I'd copy and paste from a reference document each time just to make sure.  Either that or triple-check. 

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