Portland Trail Blazers (8-3)
Friday, November 21
Moda Center; Portland, OR | 7:30 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: ESPN, CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: C.J. McCollum | Out for the Bulls: Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Kirk Hinrich
SBN Affiliate: Blog-A-Bull | Timmay's Viewing Guide | BE's 2014-15 Bulls Season Preview | Blazer's Edge Night
UPDATE [Friday 2pm]: Rose, Gasol and Hinrich are all confirmed out for the Bulls tonight:
Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Kirk Hinrich all out tonight in Bulls' matchup with Trail Blazers. http://t.co/WqlssIQIed— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) November 21, 2014
The Blazers host the Chicago Bulls tonight at the Moda Center, ending a three-game homestand and a stretch of eight home games in the first 11. Over the next 18 contests -- about a calendar month -- Portland will play on the road 13 times.
The Bulls come limping into town on the second night of a back-to-back, with starting point guard Derrick Rose ailing from a hamstring injury that has kept him out of the last three games and power forward Pau Gasol nursing a strained left calf that's prevented him from playing the last two games. Backup point guard Kirk Kinrich suffered a chest contusion in a 103-88 loss to the Kings last night.
Rose and Gasol are both questionable tonight, and neither is in a particular hurry to return to action if not feeling 100 percent. Hinrich's status is unknown, but his injury last night did warrant an x-ray -- which came up negative -- so he may be held out against the Blazers.
In the absence of its stars, shooting guard Jimmy Butler has been huge for Chicago this season. Over his last five games, Butler has averaged 41.1 minutes, scoring 23.4 points, pulling in 6.6 rebounds and earning 3.4 assists in that span while connecting on 54.1 percent of his field goals and 41.2 percent of his three-point attempts. Butler shoots about a third of his shots at the rim and finishes extremely well, also able to hit the midrange jumper. Against Sacramento last night he led the Bulls with 23 points on 11-for-18 shooting.
Starting small forward Mike Dunleavy Jr. has earned plenty of praise lately, but looking at the statistics alone doesn't tell the story. Over the last five games, Dunleavy is shooting a pedestrian 40.4 percent from the floor and 32 percent from deep, but his ability to move the ball for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau's offense has proven invaluable for a team that has had to soften the effects of various injuries recently.
Super-sub power forward Taj Gibson got the start last night in place of the injured Gasol, hitting four of his nine shots for 12 points. He's made 50 percent of his shots the last five games, half of them coming at the rim. Known as a bit of a jumpshooter in the past, Gibson has improved his play in the paint this year and has been an excellent finisher inside. Center Joakim Noah hits just under half his shots, which would be a solid field goal percentage for many players, but over three-quarters of his attempts come at the rim.
With Hinrich likely out or playing limited minutes tonight, Aaron Brooks is the only healthy point guard on Chicago's roster and will be on the court for much of the game. Brooks, the Pacific Northwest native out of the University of Oregon, made 5-of-10 shots last night against the Kings and picked up four assists. His shot has been fairly cold lately -- especially from outside, where he's been good for just 20 percent of his shots in the five games since Nov. 10 -- but he's hit 47.1 percent of his threes on the year and 37 percent for his career. Brooks is definitely in a bad shooting stretch, but he'll likely have plenty of touches tonight to get back on track.
Thibodeau's rotation can go about 11-deep when he has a full roster at his disposal, but with Rose, Gasol and Hinrich possibly shelved tonight, he'll have to either play with a shortened bench or dole out minutes to players who haven't received much playing time up this point in the season.
Rookie forwards Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic have received the most consistent minutes off the bench this year for Thibodeau, and both have struggled from the field. Little-used reserve small forward Tony Snell hasn't been much better. Rookie forward Cameron Bairstow, guard E'Twaun Moore and 17-year veteran center Nazr Mohammed may be pressed into action tonight, but they've played a combined 15 minutes this year and have gotten up three total shots between them, so their sample-size this year isn't just small -- it's practically non-existent. Suffice it to say, then, that neither Bairstow, Moore nor Mohammed are likely to be game-changers tonight. McDermott and Mirotic have the potential to positively affect a game for Chicago, but have done so sparingly in 12 games so far this season.
The Bulls, as a team, have a much more dynamic offense than they've had in recent years. This is largely because they've had to get contributions from up-and-down the roster with Rose -- who was the focal point of Chicago's offense his first several years in the NBA -- injured most of the last two seasons. The Bulls also dumped over-utilized, under-productive power forward Carlos Boozer in the offseason, opening up plenty of looks for more efficient players.
Chicago features a top-10 offense in several categories, including assists per game, effective field goal percentage, three-point shooting percentage, overall shooting percentage and free throws attempted per game. According to ESPN.com, the Bulls are tied for No. 7 in the NBA in offensive efficiency.
Still, though, Chicago is banged up and will be relying heavily on Butler, Gibson, Brooks and Dunleavy Jr. for much of its offense tonight, with just one fully healthy point guard at Thibodeau's disposal. Expect to see plenty of solid screens and good ball movement for the Bulls tonight, though they lack their normal individual firepower and will have to play as a team to keep up with the Blazers.
Fortunately for Chicago, Thibodeau is known for getting the best out of his teams on the defensive end, and this year is no exception. The Bulls allow opponents to shoot 33.2 percent from deep (No. 8 in the NBA) and 42.9 percent overall (No. 5), while giving up 18.4 three-point tries per game (No. 4) and coming in at No. 7 on ESPN.com's defensive efficiency ratings, making them one of just four teams to rank in the top-10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency so far this season.
The Blazers, meanwhile, are also a top-10 team on both sides of the ball.
Portland scores 104.4 points per game (No. 7 in the league), registers 23.8 assists (No. 6), hits 38.9 percent from deep (No. 5) and takes -- and makes -- more three-pointers a night than every team but the Houston Rockets.
Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has been on fire for the Blazers lately, shouldering the offensive load with forwards Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge missing games with minor injuries. Lillard has averages of 23.8 points, eight assists and 4.6 rebounds his last five games, shooting 52.6 percent from the field and 56.3 percent from outside on 6.4 three-point attempts per contest.
Aldridge sat out last Saturday's home win over the Nets with an upper-respiratory illness, but came back Monday night against the Pelicans to hit nine of his 18 field goal attempts for 22 points, bringing in nine rebounds and committing zero turnovers in the process. In two games against the Bulls last year, though, Aldridge shot just 20 percent from the field.
Shooting guard Wesley Matthews has cooled off offensively since starting the season out aggressively. He had a 7-for-13 shooting night against the Pelicans Monday, but has made 38.6 percent of his shots and 31.7 percent of his threes the last five games. Tonight will be a matchup of two of the league's upper-echelon two-way shooting guards, as Matthews will be going against Butler for much of the game, who has a several-inch height advantage over the player many Blazers fans refer to as "Iron Man."
Centers Chris Kaman and Robin Lopez have been sources of consistency for Portland so far this year, both hitting well over half their shots. Lopez is more of a safety plug in Blazers coach Terry Stotts' offense, hitting open shots when the opposing defenses don't respect his range and cleaning up on second-chance points under the basket. Kaman is the offensive spark for the second unit, posting up down low -- effectively finishing with both hands -- and stepping into the midrange for jumpers.
Batum hasn't played in four games, but is second on the team in both rebounds and assists for the season. His individual offense has been off to a sluggish start this year, but Batum is a big part of Stotts' offense and uses many of his looks to set up teammates.
Point guard Steve Blake plays over two dozen minutes a night on average off the bench, steadying the team with his five assists per game over the last five outings while connecting on 47.1 percent of his threes in that time.
The rest of Stotts' bench rotation changes on a game-to-game basis, depending on who's available and showing the most in practice. Wing Allen Crabbe got the nod at starting small forward the four games Batum sat, but only shot when open and didn't convert well. With shooting guard CJ McCollum out for the next month, Crabbe could still be in the rotation.
Forward Joel Freeland plays about 12 minutes a night, affecting the game mostly with his hustle. Wing Will Barton has produced inconsistently, though he's been used sporadically. Forwards Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and big man Meyers Leonard may go back to collecting DNP-CDs again now that Stotts should have a roster at full health available tonight.
The Bulls are a middle-of-the-road team at rebounding the ball on the offensive end and are downright terrible on the other end, percentage-wise. Their total defensive rebounding numbers are a bit inflated because they allow opponents to shoot a ton of field goals but give up low percentage from the field, therefore creating more overall rebounding opportunities.
Gasol is Chicago's best individual rebounder, but he'll either be out tonight or not at full strength. Noah is also effective on the glass. Otherwise, the Bulls are pretty underwhelming rebounding the ball. Portland has a huge rebounding advantage tonight on paper, as the Blazers excel on the offensive end and are decent defensively. Aldridge, Lopez, Kaman, Freeland and Batum are all good-to-great individual rebounders in the frontcourt and Lillard and Matthews contribute on the boards quite well from the backcourt.
Portland is facing an injured Bulls team that is coming off a 15-point loss last night in Sacramento. Chicago will likely be without two of its top-3 options on offense and will have Brooks as its only healthy point guard. The Blazers haven't played since Monday and will only be missing McCollum tonight.
Ostensibly, this is a winnable game for Portland before the team kicks off one of its roughest stretches of the season Sunday night in Boston, and securing the victory at home against the Bulls would be a solid way to end a very home-friendly start to the year.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter