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Game 52 Preview: Bulls vs. Trail Blazers

Injury Update (11:00 AM): From The Blazers: "Dante Cunningham (fractured right orbital bone) is doubtful for tonight's game vs. Chicago. He is listed as day-to-day." Cunningham took an elbow to the eye on Saturday night.


Game Time:  7:00 p.m.  TV:  CSNNW

The Trail Blazers welcome the 34-15 Chicago Bulls into town tonight in what is likely to be the first exciting game they've played since the glorious blowout of the San Antonio Spurs a week ago.  The Bulls have won 9 of their last 11, taking out Miami, Orlando, and Dallas in the process.  They bring plenty of firepower with Derrick Rose, the LaMarcus Aldridge abusing Carlos Boozer, and Portland's sometimes-nemesis Luol Deng.  Rebound-magnet Joakim Noah is injured, thank heavens for small blessings.  But Kurt Thomas brings steady veteran play in his place and reserve Taj Gibson is prone to the occasional great game, so the Blazers can't relax entirely.  Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson can hit threes off the bench.  Stick them all together and they make up an average NBA offense but their individual prowess, tending towards occasional explosiveness, should worry the Blazers tonight.

The Bulls shine brightest on the defensive end.  They're first in the league in defensive efficiency, parsimonious with points in the paint and brilliant at making you take shots under pressure.  They're first in the league in opponent effective field goal percentage, in a dead tie for first in opponent shooting percentage, and third in opponent three-point percentage.  They don't let you score anywhere.  They're 6th in defensive rebounding percentage as well.  Being second in blocked shots is just icing on the cake.  The Blazers will be scoring against a buzzsaw.

The key to Portland's success will be moving that Chicago defense.  The first way is to up the tempo, attacking before they get set.  The Bulls are relatively mediocre against the fast break.  Even if Portland doesn't get the break outright, they can still pressure early if they move quickly.  Slowing down and holding the ball on one side of the court will probably be the kiss of death against this team.  They're too good and have more decent big men than the Blazers do at this juncture.  (If you're on Marcus Camby watch, this would be a great game for him to come back, especially if he brings that high post jumper with him.)  On the other end Portland has to limit Rose's opportunities and comfort factor first.  If he busts out the whole defense will be rendered moot.  After that keeping Boozer from getting easy looks should be the next priority.  If Deng beats the Blazers, so be it.  If Chicago's three-point shooters beat the Blazers, so be it.  The two most obvious guys are threat enough to worry about.  Portland's guards are going to be hard-pressed in this game.  Portland's bench--particularly Rudy Fernandez--will need to produce as well.  Chicago brings some decent guys off of their pines.  The Blazers can't afford a 12-point night from its reserves.

The other glaring issue for the Blazers is the first LaMarcus Aldridge-Carlos Boozer matchup of the year.  Boozer used Aldridge like a wet hankie when Carlos was in Utah.  That was a different LMA though.  This one has got to fight more.  If he gets bullied the Blazers are done before this game starts.  This should be the storyline of the night.

It won't be easy to beat the Bulls but if Portland can solve that defense (again...MOVE!) Chicago might have trouble generating enough offense to overcome.  The Blazers should definitely be aiming for a chalupa night tonight.  That would make the game so much easier.

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--Dave (