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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Chicago Bulls Preview

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Can the Blazers make it four straight wins?

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NBA: Chicago Bulls at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (28-22) vs. Chicago Bulls (18-32)

Wednesday, January 31th - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Meyers Leonard (questionable)
Bulls injuries: Lauri Markkanen (out—personal reasons), Kris Dunn (out), Nikola Mirotic (questionable)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Blog a Bull

The Blazers are shooting for eight in a row at home and four in a row overall against a depleted Bulls team—a classic “trap game” if you believe in that sort of thing. With the Bulls having significant lineup questions and a generally poor season, this should be a game the Blazers can win with some ease. However, the Blazers have shown a knack at times for playing at the level of their opponent.

The Bulls will try to snap a four-game losing streak as they begin a three-game West Coast road trip in Portland. The Bulls are in rough shape at the moment. If reports are to be believed, Mirotic is nearly out the door via trade. He did make the trip to Portland, however. On the other hand, he is also nursing a leg injury, so whether or how much he will play is an open question.

Besides the question mark about Mirotic, Markkanen is out for personal reasons and Dunn is in concussion protocol and will likewise miss the game. Even worse, the Bulls have been listless recently and simply haven’t looked competitive.

Update:

And another update:

What to Watch For

Can the Blazers avoid complacency? Statistically, the Blazers score more points, shoot a higher percentage from the field, shoot better from three, give up fewer points and allow fewer opponent rebounds than the Bulls. If the Blazers play fundamentally sound basketball they should win the game with no problem. Blazer fans, however, will remember a few games that looked really good on paper that they couldn’t win, notably against the Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings and Brooklyn Nets among others. In the NBA, if you don’t bring it, your opponent always has enough talent on the court to embarrass you.

Rebounds. One of the few areas in which the Bulls are statistically superior to the Blazers is rebounds per game. The bad news for Chicago is that their leading rebounder (Markkanen) is out and their second-leading rebounder (Mirotic) may not play or might possibly be limited due to injury. If the Bulls are going to give Portland a game, Chicago will need to outwork the Blazers on the boards. If Portland wins the battle of the boards, they will almost certainly come away as victors.

The power of plaid. The Blazers will wear their “City” design for the first time against the Bulls. Featuring a black and gray plaid pattern, the uniform is meant to invoke memories of the Blazers’ championship coach Jack Ramsay, a strong proponent of having plaid in your wardrobe. With Dr. Jack in their corner, how can the Blazers lose?

What They’re Saying

Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune asks if Fred Hoiberg can coach in the NBA:

We’ve played this game for three seasons now, usually after the Bulls have failed to play a game worthy of professionals, such as Sunday’s dog of a 110-96 loss to the Bucks. The Bulls’ fourth straight defeat screamed for another episode, and so, here we are, noting how Hoiberg talked tough after the desultory effort.

“We’re going to have a hell of a practice (Monday),’’ Hoiberg said. “We’re going to have a training-camp-type practice. We have to get our competitive edge and spirit back. We’re going to go like hell.”

Tough talk right there, mister. It came from a Boy Scout but it sounded tough and necessary and get your popcorn ready.

But here’s the thing: The tough-guy trait has been an issue before, and it usually hasn’t included a happy ending, initially and most famously with Jimmy Butler.

Losing Dunn hurts, but Joe Cowly of the Chicago Sun-Times is looking at Zach LaVine as a big factor in the Bulls’ recent struggles:

Hoiberg can have all the boot-camp-style practices he wants, but until guard Zach LaVine finds a consistent rhythm, as well as better shot selection, the offensive struggles won’t go away.

“We gotta get better shots,’’ Hoiberg said about LaVine’s recent play.

LaVine’s 5-for-28 shooting in the last two games stands out, but his dry spell goes back even further. In his last five games, he’s 22-for-67 (33 percent) from the field, including 7-for-25 (28 percent) from three-point range.

He won’t play in this game, but Markkanen gives the Bulls hope for the future, according to Ricky O’Donnell of Blog a Bull:

Just 45 games into his NBA career, Markkanen has answered every question. He’s shown an impressive amount of athletic grace for a 7-footer. He’s competing defensively and holding his own on the glass. He won’t just be a great shooter — he’ll be a great scorer.

Lauri Markkanen is a stud. Whether the Bulls knew it or not, they found their next franchise cornerstone from the moment they traded Butler.