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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Chicago Bulls Preview

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The Trail Blazers try to extend their winning streak to three games tonight against Jimmy Butler and the Chicago Bulls.

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Portland Trail Blazers (6-9) vs Chicago Bulls (8-4)
Tuesday, November 24
Moda Center | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNW; 620 AM
Portland injury report
: Meyers Leonard (Out) | Chicago injury report: Derrick Rose (Probable), Aaron Brooks (Out), Mike Dunleavy Jr. (Out)
SBN Affiliate: BlogaBull Blazer's Edge Night 2016

The Portland Trail Blazers (6-9) face off against the Chicago Bulls (8-4) tonight in the Moda Center at 7:00 PM.

The Blazers will look to win their third straight game after beating both Los Angeles teams over the weekend. The Bulls are hoping to get back on track after a 106-94 loss to the undefeated Golden State Warriors on Friday. Prior to that game, the Bulls had four consecutive victories.

Despite firing Tom Thibodeau during the offseason, the Bulls are still an intimidating defensive squad. In its last four victories Chicago held opponents to an average of 94 points, and has the second best opponent field goal percentage in the league thus far (41.4 percent). Most of their defensive success is rooted in challenging shots around the basket - opponents have shot a decent 34.4 percent from three, but have a terrible percentage closer to the basket. The Blazers, who rely on open looks for their outside shooters, will need to find a way to manufacture easy baskets against a stiff Bulls defense to have a chance tonight.

New Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was expected to breathe new life into the team's offense heading into the season, but so far that has not transpired. The Bulls are in the middle of the pack or worse for most offensive stats. They average 100.5 points per game and have an offensive rating of 98.9. One positive so far has been 3-point shooting. Despite a low overall field goal percentage (43.2 percent), the Bulls are sixth in the league shooting 37.6 percent from deep.

Some of the Bulls' offensive troubles have been the result of injuries. Former MVP Derrick Rose has complained of double vision all season and has missed the last two games with a left ankle sprain. When he has been in the lineup Rose has lacked the explosiveness that made him effective in previous seasons, leading to inefficient and turnover-prone performances. Rose is expected to return to the lineup tonight, but if he suffers a setback Kirk Hinrich will fill in at starting point guard.

Starting small forward Mike Dunleavy Jr. (yes, he's still a remarkably effective player, somehow) has also yet to suit up for the Bulls, robbing Hoiberg of a reliable "glue guy." Doug McDermott and Tony Snell have filled in at small forward, but neither has been particularly effective. Joakim Noah has also not played well on offense thus far. When Rose went down in previous seasons Noah was called upon to trigger the offense from the high post, but this season he is averaging only 2.5 points per game in a reserve role.

The most effective Bull this season has been Jimmy Butler. Butler is a great perimeter defender and is averaging 21 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game. He has taken over primary playmaking responsibilities during Rose's absence and acquitted himself well. Under normal circumstances Butler thrives by slashing to the rim and drawing fouls at a very high rate.

Rounding out the starting lineup is long time veteran Pau Gasol and second-year power forward Nikola Mirotic. Gasol is one of the most highly skilled big men in the league, but has recently stated publicly that he needs more opportunities to score on the low block. Mirotic is a stretch four who was expected to breakout after an impressive rookie campaign, but has shown little statistical improvement or ability to create his own offense.

Keys to the game:

Get some offense inside

Unless Lillard and McCollum shoot the lights out from beyond the arc the Blazers will need some points around the hoop if they hope to win tonight. One option is to run the ball; the Bulls are No. 12 in the league in fast break defense so Portland may be able to use its athleticism to get into the open court and score baskets in transition. In the half-court, the Bulls are much better at covering the pick-and-roll than the Lakers, so Lillard will have more difficulty distributing offensive opportunities than he did on Sunday night.

Contain bad matchups

Butler and Gasol are the Bulls' most skilled offensive players, pending Rose's return to form. They do not fit the mold of overwhelming physical center and super fast point guard that has torched Portland in previous games (think Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson), but they will still present problems. Notably, Butler is at his best when attacking the rim and drawing fouls. Both of those have been Achilles' heels for Portland this season. To make matters worse, Butler lines up at shooting guard so Portland will either have to put Aminu on him and hide C.J.McCollum on a small forward, or hope that McCollum can offer a better-than-average defensive effort tonight. Similarly, Gasol is skilled enough to pick apart any post defender the Blazers have. The Bulls have failed to get Gasol the ball often enough in recent games, but if that changes tonight he should be able to score at will. If Head Coach Terry Stotts chooses to double Gasol then the Bulls' good 3-point shooters will become a threat.

Bench frontcourt play

The Bulls have a deep roster. Some of the depth has been limited by the injuries to Dunleavy and Aaron Brooks, but Chicago still boasts a formidable frontcourt rotation with Taj Gibson and Noah playing behind Gasol and Mirotic. On the other side of the ball, the Blazers are missing Meyers Leonard for a seventh consecutive game and have been forced to start the inexperienced Noah Vonleh at power forward. Chicago will have a clear advantage at the 4/5 that Portland will need to mitigate. One possible route is to crash the boards with extra aggressiveness - the Bulls are not a great rebounding team so Ed Davis' hustle may come in handy tonight. Stotts may also choose to go small by playing only one big man and assigning Aminu to shadow Mirotic.

Bottom line

Despite their offensive woes, injuries, and poor performance from several key players the Bulls are still riding their elite defense to a good record. The Blazers will likely struggle to find efficient offense from anyone other than Lillard around the basket. On defense, Portland will have difficulty containing the aggressive penetration of Butler and Rose, and the low post play of Gasol, while also keeping their big men out of foul trouble.

Game Notes

The Bulls lead the all-time series against the Blazers, 59-57. In Portland the Blazers lead 35-23, and have won the last seven home games against the Bulls. The teams have met twice in the playoffs. Chicago prevailed 4-2 in the 1992 Finals, and the Blazers won 2-1 in 1977 en route to their only championship.

This is the first of two meetings for the Blazers and Bulls this season. The teams will meet again in Chicago on February 27, 2016.

Coming off an ACL tear that caused him to miss the entire 2012-13 season, the oft-injured Rose suffered a meniscus tear against the Blazers on Nov. 22, 2013. Rose would miss the remainder of that season with the injury.

The Bulls are in the middle of a uniquely scheduled road trip. They play only four games in 10 days while away from the Windy City.

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