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Game 49 Preview: Bulls vs. Blazers

This is our first meeting with the Bulls.  It's an interesting matchup to me.  I'm really looking forward to this game.

Don't miss the Jersey Contest prediction thread for this game.  Scroll down the page or click here.

Also don't miss bfan's excellent and exciting eyewitness report from last night!

A Look at the Bulls

The Bulls roll into town winners of five out of their last six and eight of their last eleven.  Their hallmark is their defense.  They are the second best field goal percentage team in the league, trailing only Houston.  They allow only 94.3 points per game, good for seventh in the league.  They average 7.9 steals per game and 5.5 blocks, ranking sixth in the league in each.  Having these guys match up against you is no picnic.

The thing is, for a good defensive squad they average a lot of shots (around 80) and a reasonable amount of points (98.9).  Their +4.6 point differential is one of the better marks in the league.  This isn't a gimmick team.  They're big, skilled, experienced, and they play hard at both ends of the court.

The main man for the Bulls this year is third-year guard Ben Gordon.  He comes off the bench for them but he takes more shots than anybody and shoots 46% from the field and 39% from the arc.  The fact that he's dangerous from everywhere makes up for his height (6'3") and that's why he averages 21.5 points per game.  He's been on a run lately too, topping 30 in three out of his last six games.  6'9" swingman Luol Deng is starting to fulfill the promise he showed early on, averaging 18 points and 7 rebounds while shooting 52% from the field.  His height and ranginess make him a tough opponent on either end.  Point guard Kirk Heinrich is averaging more than 6 assists per game and is dangerous from deep.  He's scored 26,  25, and 20 in his last three games.  Forward Andres Nocioni can also hit from range and he's averaging 15 and 6 on the season.  The only guy among their celebrated offensive players who hasn't found much traction this season is point guard Chris Duhon who is having a miserable time shooting.  He is still dishing out four assist in 24 minutes though.  Rookie Tyrus Thomas is a celebrated name but really hasn't had a huge effect on their season because of limited playing time.  If he's going to make a mark it'll usually be through rebounding.

Those are just their offensive guys and athletes though.  Chicago is anchored by Big Ben Wallace, with whom everybody who's not been under a rock for the last three years is familiar.  Wallace has overcome a rocky start to the season to get his stats up to the reasonably acceptable (for him) level of 10 rebounds and 2 blocks a game.  He's obviously a great defender and one of the few guys in the league who bends, if not outright changes, games at that end of the floor.  Fortunately for us Ben is having tendon problems in his left knee.  It forced him to sit out the next to the last game they played and into 23 minutes of anonymity (2 boards, 1 block, missed the only shot he took) against Seattle last night.  Veteran P.J. Brown, who has long been the bane of Zach Randolph, is picking up some of the defensive and rebounding slack with Ben hurt, but Brown is really having an off season.  Thomas will also fill in.

There's no clear-cut weakness in the Bulls' squad, which is part of the reason they're seven games above .500 as we speak.  Most of the games they have lost recently have been low scoring.  Sometimes they just can't hit the broad side of a barn and then they can get in trouble.  Limiting their shots, particularly easy ones, is a sound strategy.  If they score 100 (and they can) they're probably going to win.

What I'd Like To See:

  1.  The first key to this game is energy.  Both teams played last night.  Both teams are dealing with injuries.  Probably the team that gets the emotional ride first is going to have a better chance tonight.  We were gritty last night and fought back when down, but we were also semi-lazy last night.  Diving for loose balls and moving feet quickly on defense are going to be important.
  2.  I think one of the keys could be putting a lot of pressure on Kirk Hinrich to guard somebody.  It's not that he can't do it, but if you get him tired, or even better draw some fouls on him and make him sit, the Bulls aren't as good of a team.  He's not as heralded this year as some of his teammates, but he's really one of the main cogs.  I'd like to see Jarrett Jack very aggressive, driving and looking for his offense.  I wish we had Sergio available to do the same thing, but alas...
  3.  Ben Gordon is going to score no matter what, but I think we need to try to limit the scoring of Deng and Nocioni.  They are good, but they are more apt to be up and down.  If we can do a good job on them with Ime or Roy we've hobbled one leg of the Chicago offense.  That doesn't mean we'll win, but we'd have a better shot.
  4.  I think since Ben Wallace is hobbled Zach needs to smell blood in the water.  I don't like him in the wing-post isolation set against these veteran big guys and their smaller, savvy counterparts though.  I want to see either very deep posting or wide open face-up jumpers.  The first they probably won't be able to stop, the second will draw them away from the boards.
  5.  Our perimeter guys MUST stay home on their outside shooters tonight!  If you let them open for threes they will hit!  Fortunately the Chicago bigs don't overwhelm you with offense.  They are a very good group for gang rebounding though so everybody will need to box out when the shot goes up.  I don't see a lot of zone tonight, just tough man-to-man.  Oh, and if Wallace or Brown get the ball, can we please not double them?
  6.  If Jack and Roy are penetrating they're going to need an outlet.  I know he played sorry against Denver but I have this weird feeling it could be Martell's night tonight.  The big question would be how to cover for him defensively.
It would probably be foolish to predict a win against the Bulls, as they're a superior team.  But I have to tell you I have this itch at the back of my neck about this game and have had for a while, no matter how it looks on paper.  I will say this:  if we lose we're probably going to get blown out of the water, which is what most people would expect to happen.  But if we don't get blown out of the water I think we're going to win this one.  Don't ask me why.  It's not logical.  Just a hunch.

(And of course you know that will now be posted all over Chicago Bulls blogs and I'll be pegged as a ridiculous home team mark even though I've predicted the Blazers to lose plenty this year.  I just hope the Blazers show up...)

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)