The Chicago Bulls pay their only visit to the Rose Garden tonight to face the Portland Trail Blazers. The game begins at 6:00 p.m. Pacific and will be televised on CSNNW and WGN America.
The 5-4 Bulls have feasted on poor teams early in the season. Their wins have come against Sacramento, Cleveland, Orlando, Minnesota, and Phoenix. Their losses: Oklahoma City, Boston, New Orleans, and the Clippers. With a couple exceptions--Minnesota and New Orleans--the dividing line between those two groups shines brightly.
Chicago's starting lineup looks familiar to anyone who's followed them in the last couple years: Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Rip Hamilton. All except Hamilton are in their prime. They've played together and they know what they're doing. Noah and Deng remain the strongest links. Boozer is rebounding as much as ever but his offense has deserted him like a Kardashian Bride. Last year he shot 53%, this year 44%. Hamilton is doing fine as ever, just shooting less than he did in his best years.
The sticking point for the Bulls is, of course, point guard. Derrick Rose remains injured. Considering how much of the offense ran through him it's a miracle the Bulls are shooting and scoring as well as they are. In that sense you have to give Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson, and Marquis Teague--his replacements--some credit. Based on individual merit, however, only Robinson is off to a decent start. He's shooting 48%, averaging 11.5 points and 4.5 assists in 24 minutes per game. Hinrich, by comparison, is under 33% with 5 points and 5 assists in 24 minutes and Teague 25%, 2 points, and an assist in 7 minutes. This is the weak spot in the lineup.
The Bulls bench is a mixed lot. They miss Omer Asik, departed for Houston. Narz Mohammed is the theoretical backup at center but in practice they play a bunch of forwards. Taj Gibson is not playing well early, making an already-shaky frontcourt even shakier. But sophomore small forward Jimmy Butler is shooting the cover off the ball as is shooting guard Marco Belinelli. Belinelli also has the distinction of being just about the only Bull who will both take and make three-pointers on a consistent basis.
Chicago is solidly middle-of-the-road in most offensive categories save, as we mentioned, three-pointers attempted. Their next most prominent distinction is drawing plenty of fouls and hitting their free throws. Conspicuously absent: offensive rebounding, one of the areas in which they miss Asik most sorely. Last year they led the league in offensive rebounding percentage. This year they're a comparatively pedestrian 12th.
The Bulls are far more balanced defensively than they are on offense...understandable since their missing players weren't the strongest links on this end of the floor. They're stingy with overall percentage allowed, three-point percentage allowed, and foul shots allowed. They defend well in transition. They're more pedestrian guarding the lane but the Blazers never score there anyway.
On Friday night against Houston the challenge for the Blazers was to defend, to keep Houston from getting easy buckets. Tonight Portland's challenge will be scoring. Chicago can win scoring high or low but since they, themselves, are struggling to generate points they will probably prefer low. Portland's mission should be to race to 100 as quickly as possible then look back and see if the Bulls have managed to keep up. Chances are they won't. If this is a game in the 80's or low-90's, though, Chicago's defense and paint scoring will likely tell over Portland's.
Portland does have the advantage of young legs and of not having played last night. (Chicago just lost to the Clippers.) If the Blazers can blitz the Bulls early and keep rolling, this could be their night.
Blog a Bull will have the Chicago story.
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