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Game 61 Preview: Blazers vs. Bulls

Game Time:  5:00 Pacific  TV:  Comcast

The travelling road show pulls into Chicago tonight for the running of the Bulls.   Of course comparing the relative paces it's far more likely to be the running of the Blazers, but we'll let that go.

As seems all too typical of the Blazers' fortunes lately, they're running into a team that was muddling along into nowhere a few weeks ago and all of a sudden caught fire.  The Bulls have won 7 of their last 9, largely because they've been scoring out the wazoo.  They've thrown up 5 games of 109+ in the last three weeks and have not lost when scoring more than 100.  That pattern has been moderately consistent through the season but they haven't been getting into triple digits (let alone high triple digits) as frequently as they have this month.  A rejuvenated Luol Deng has been leading the charge most nights, scoring 31 in their last outing, but Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, and Taj Gibson have also led the team in scoring.  Gibson has turned into a terror on the boards as well.  It's safe to say the Bulls are as close to firing on all cylinders as they're going to get.

Chicago starts Rose, Hinrich, Deng, Gibson, and center Brad Miller...a decent group, particularly with Gibson, formerly the weakest in the bunch, beasting out.  The recent trade of John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas has created space for these forwards plus new acquisition Hakim Warrick and they're performing.  Miller is a shadow of what he once was and is starting mostly because of Joakim Noah's foot injury.  Noah is slowly returning, averaging a little over 8 minutes in the Bulls' last three games.  Between his comeback and the play of Warrick, Miller isn't long for the first unit.

Under normal circumstances you'd call the Bulls' offense shaky.  They rank 27th in the league in offensive efficiency, 25th in shooting percentage, 27th in effective field goal percentage.  Nobody draws a lot of foul shots.  Nobody besides Deng and Hinrich shoots the three dependably.  They're only average as a team in fastbreak points generated.  That means the offense traditionally boils down to how many opportunities Rose (19.9 ppg) and Deng (18.2 ppg) can generate.  But you don't have to look at too many 115-120 point outings to realize that when the Bulls start sharing the ball, playing free and easy, they have real firepower.  This is bolstered by a fine corps of offensive rebounders to put second and third shots in.  Bog them down into a one-on-one game and their stars will score but they'll lose.  Take them for granted and everyone will do well and you'll lose.

Extra production from Chicago is a scary prospect because they're actually quite good defensively.  They're the best in the league in field goal percentage allowed.  Defensive efficiency is quite high.  Both happen because they are stingy with points in the paint and quite good at limiting teams to one shot.

Quite frankly this game is likely to be tough for the Blazers.  Irrespective of records Portland tends to fare well against teams that can't defend, a la Toronto, but struggle against teams that know what they're doing, like Atlanta and Milwaukee.  In other words the Blazers gladly accept the other team making the game easy on them but they don't know how to make the game easy on themselves.  Chicago is likely to make this game tough for Portland.  This could make for a glum evening even if the Bulls don't manage 120.

The Blazers will need to crack that defense and find a way to get easy shots.  They'll not be able to sit all night on the perimeter because they won't be able to balance it with unopposed one-on-one drives.  They'll have to fast break, cut, and get offensive rebounds.  Roy will need to use his height advantage over whoever defends him.  Aldridge will need to show up big too.  If Webster and/or Batum can take a slice out of Deng that's one leg of Chicago's offense gone.  But the Blazers still have to limit the Bulls to one move and one shot.  This should be easier because of their lack of distance shooting.  You can cheat off of several of their players.

Fortunately this game is the least critical on the trip.  It would be wonderful to go 5-0 but if you're going to lose one, this would be the one to lose.  Chicago's a good opponent and you've already bagged two wins so you can absorb the loss.  You don't want to lose in Minnesota tomorrow night for obvious reasons.  The Memphis closer would be the most significant win of all.  If the Blazers pull it off tonight an astonishing trip could be in the offing.  If not, it's no harm, no foul.

Take a look at the always-entertaining BlogaBull.

This would be your Jersey Contest game form for the evening.

--Dave (