Portland Trail Blazers (30-28) vs. Chicago Bulls (30-27)
Saturday, February 27
United Center | 5 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNW; 620 AM
Portland injury report: None | Chicago injury report: Jimmy Butler (Out, Knee), Derrick Rose (Day-to-Day, Hamstring), Nikola Mirotic (Out, Appendectomy), Joakim Noah (Out - Shoulder)
SBN Affiliate: Blog a Bull| Blazer's Edge Night 2016
After blowing a 21-point lead in a disappointing loss to the Houston Rockets on Thursday, the Portland Trail Blazers are back in action tonight against the Chicago Bulls, in the first game of a six-game road trip.
While Chicago was expected to be a fringe contender in the Eastern Conference this year, their up-and-down season has them currently sitting in sixth place, winning only four of their last 12 games.
Of course, losing an All-Star shooting guard will do that to you. Due to a knee injury, Jimmy Butler has only played 18 minutes since Feb. 2 and Chicago is really missing his 22 points, five rebounds, and four assists per game, not to mention his elite perimeter defense. With a usage rate of 24.9 percent, that's a huge chunk of Chicago's offense missing.
Point guard Derrick Rose has been playing better of late, but is nursing tendonitis in his right hamstring and has missed the Bulls' last two contests, including last night against the Atlanta Hawks. While Rose is clearly not the explosive NBA MVP he once was, he has quietly shown improvement over the course of the season, putting up 19 points per game on nearly 46 percent shooting since Jan. 1 while improving his accuracy at the rim.
Should Rose miss his third consecutive game, the Bulls will continue to go with combo guard E'twaun Moore in his place. Moore has dramatically improved his 3-point shot this season, and hits from beyond the arc at a nearly 45 percent clip. However, he struggles in isolation on the defensive side of the ball. Moore shows a good ability to help down low on bigger players, but can be beaten off the dribble by quicker guards.
Not to be outdone, the Bulls' frontcourt has been plagued with injuries as well, with forward Nikola Mirotic inactive since Jan. 28 after an emergency appendectomy and center Joakim Noah shut down for good in mid-January after requiring season ending surgery on his separated shoulder.
Big men Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson, on the other hand, are keeping Chicago afloat down low. The 35-year-old Gasol, an All-Star for the second consecutive season, has shown little sign of slowing down, averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds per game, along with two blocks. Gasol tends to shoot more from the midrange than he did earlier in his career, taking a third of his attempts outside of 16 feet, but he has maintained his effectiveness with the increased volume, shooting a respectable 45 percent from that range.
Gibson, a prototypical power forward, works predominately in the paint, taking two thirds of his attempts within 10 feet. He also gobbles up offensive rebounds at the rate of nearly four per 36 minutes on his way to eight points and seven rebounds per game.
Taking Butler's place in the starting lineup is veteran wing Mike Dunleavy, still an excellent face-up shooter and solid defender despite his age, though his declining athleticism has impacted his ability to get to the rim.
The first two players off of Chicago's bench are small forwards Doug McDermott and Tony Snell. Though they play the same position for the most part, they have quite different skillsets, with McDermott being a quality jump shooter from his first NBA game (though injuries severely limited his rookie campaign) and Snell displaying the capabilities of a quality defender with the ability to get to the rim and hit the occasional corner 3-pointer.
Aaron Brooks and Bobby Portis also see more than 15 minutes per contest and each average around seven points per game.
Thursday's tough loss aside, the Blazers have been hot of late, winning 15 of their last 19 games. While the national media is starting to take notice, Portland is entering its most difficult stretch of the season. Tonight's contest not only opens a six game road trip, but starts off a four-games-in-five-nights stretch for the team.
Though the Bulls are currently dealing with several key injuries, Portland needs to avoid taking Chicago too lightly. As the Blazers have experienced several times this season, no lead or victory can be assumed. Portland needs to play its game for a full 48 minutes; not 24, or 36, or even 40. This is a natural part of a team's maturation process, and hopefully the Blazers has learned their lesson after the second half of Thursday's loss against the Rockets
Damian Lillard vs. Derrick Rose/E'Twaun Moore - Coming off of a game against Houston where he took a beating and most of his shots looked flat, Lillard is likely going to have something to prove tonight. While the Rockets found success against Lillard and CJ McCollum by defending them with bigger wings, injuries and age will limit Chicago's opportunities to do the same. It's hard to imagine a scenario where Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg tries to stick Dunleavy on Lillard for longer than 10 seconds.
Look for Lillard to use his speed advantage to get to the lane. Hopefully, he won't feel the need to try too many quick 3-pointers early in the clock when his bread will be buttered in the paint tonight.
Things to watch for:
Turnovers: When the offense stagnated against Houston, due to their increased defensive pressure, the Blazers started turning the ball over left and right. Credit where credit is due, but many of the Rockets' steals were passes born of bad decisions, whether the Blazers were attempting a risky outlet pass or simply just threw the ball into their opponents' waiting hands. One has to assume that the team still feels the sting of their careless second half play and will be less careless with the ball tonight.
Ball movement: On the flip side, when the Blazers seemed to be turning the ball over every other possession, they started taking turns going one-on-one against the Rockets. Portland's offense hums when players are making the correct reads and crisp passes. It will be interesting to see if the team is slightly shell shocked or if they get back to what led to so much success in the month of February.