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Game 71 Preview: Blazers vs. Bulls

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Ahhhh...remember when that was the subtitle of the best NBA video game around?

A Look at the Bulls

If you're looking for a blueprint to build an NBA team you could do a lot worse than the Chicago Bulls.  They're an impressive defensive squad, their field goal percentage allowed ranking second in the league.  They rebound well, their offense is decent, they can hurt you from multiple positions, they're great outside shooters...in fact they out-duel their opponents in just about every statistical category save free throws drawn and attempted, and their deficit isn't much there.  Their small positions are populated by young, active, and mostly interchangeable players.  Their frontcourt holds veterans who can defend and rebound without taking shots away from their smaller guys.  They have burgeoning star power, one of the best defenders in the league, a good coach...they're everything you'd point to in a solid NBA squad.

The Bulls are 40-31 as we speak, good enough for third in their division and fifth in the East.  If that's a little lower than you expected to see them you're not alone.  They've had real trouble on the road this year, as is typical of teams that depend on young players.  They also have a nasty habit of letting opponents run up the score every now and then, and when they do that they find their own firepower overmatched.  They've got good scorers but they're hardly the Suns.  Unfortunately neither one of those problems is going to be an issue tonight.

There are more celebrated players on the team, but to me the straw that stirs the drink is still point guard Kirk Hinrich.  He's having some foot problems but that's not stopping him from being on an enormous scoring tear.  He's scored 29 and 21 in his last two games, albeit shooting more than 20 times in each.  Hinrich remains one of the more underrated players in the league.  His running mate Ben Gordon, Chicago's scoring leader, has been more mercurial.  Most of the month it's been one or two good games followed by one or two bad.  He's scored 33, 10, and 25 in the last three.  Hopefully the pattern will hold and he'll have an off night but with the way guards have ripped our defense recently I'd be surprised.  Somewhat less mercurial and more imposing is 6'9" swingman Luol Deng.  This guy has tongues wagging all over the league and he could be one of the next big two-way stars.  If you concentrate on Hinrich and Gordon he'll sneak in and kill you.  Sweet-shooting forward Andres Nocioni is down with foot ailments which has not only increased Deng's court time but that of rookie Tyrus Thomas.  Like most rookies Double-T fluctuates wildly from night to night but when he's energized he can be a terror on the boards.  The interior is all about Big Ben Wallace who can be as dominant as ever on the defensive end, he just doesn't do it quite so often.  This is another small chink in Chicago's armor as veteran P.J. Brown seldom comes through with much more than decent position defense nowadays.

What I'd Like To See:

  1.  There's no pat strategy I can see for beating the Chicago offense other than saying, "Find the man in their main trio who's most off and make him shoot."  The good news is that there's usually one on any given night.  The bad news is that you don't know who it's going to be.  Gordon can destroy you when he's on but on his rare off nights he will also shoot you right out of the game with his whiz-bang offensive style.  Hinrich's willingness to fire could also be a bonus, though he seems less apt to take foolish shots.  Deng has been shooting frequently and he's been the steadiest of the three lately so beware of him.  Keeping a body in front of all three is an absolute must.  If you give them daylight (save Gordon sometimes) you're dead.
  2.  Those smaller guards are fabulous from the outside.  I hope our guys are up to fighting through screens.
  3.  We better be hitting those mid-range and long-range jumpers tonight because it's unlikely we'll be doing too much driving with Wallace patrolling the lane.  The best way to get past him is to outrun him down the floor, but the Blazers don't do that much.
  4.  We need to do our best to take advantage of the power forward matchup offensively.  Whether that's Zach or Lamarcus they need to try and barbeque Brown.  If they switch Wallace onto one of them the ball needs to go through the other.  It's less likely Big Ben will watch Lamarcus so the kid needs to have his mojo working from 12-15 feet.
  5.  Compared to most teams Chicago gets a lot more shots up than their opponents.  They do that by turning you over, by running, and by getting offensive rebounds.  Limiting their possessions would be a good start to staying competitive.
  6.  When it comes down to it, we're probably going to have to outscore them.  That's a really tall order for this team.  Basically a few things will have to bounce right.  Things have been going well for the last week or so, but this would be a heck of a win.  It would even be a heck of a five-point loss.
--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)