Bulls at Portland Trail Blazers game preview: Bulls trying to bounce back on a road back-to-back

Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE

[Thanks to RoseBeforeHoes for today's game preview -yfbb]

Gametime: Nov. 18 at 8:00 PM CST on WGN-TV/WGN America

The Trail Blazers came out of the gate pretty well this season, defying early expectations to go 3-1, including a gusty opening win against the scapegoat’s Mike Brown Lakers. The Blazers have struggled since then, losing four straight before smoking the dysfunctional Kings and squeaking out an entertaining overtime win against the Rockets at home Friday.

Except for the blowout against the Cavs, the Bulls have had to work extremely hard for every win and to keep (almost) every loss close. They’ve had particular trouble closing out competitive games, a problem that’ll continue until Derrick Rose returns and gets back to form. Unless, of course, Kirk Hinrich suddenly learns how to shoot (or is replaced in the rotation by hometown favorite Jannero Pargo).

Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Point Guard: Kirk Hinrich vs. Damian Lillard

Lillard’s had a hell of a rookie campaign so far. Over nine games, the 22-year old is averaging 19.3 points, 6.4 assists, and a 18.5 PER. He’s also shooting 44% from the field, including an impressive 39.7% from downtown. He’s a pick & roll natural with a perfect partner in LaMarcus Aldridge. Lillard’s defense isn’t all that good yet, but he hustles, and he’ll snag a steal or two if Hinrich gets sloppy.

Lillard is a bit turnover prone, mostly because he handles the ball so much. If Hinrich is the defensive pest we know he can be, he could frustrate Lillard and create some fast break opportunities for the Bulls. Hinrich also needs to knock down his open 3s and penetrate at least enough to get a few open looks for his teammates. He can’t shoot 33% forever, can he?

Advantage: Blazers

Shooting Guard: Rip Hamilton vs. Wesley Matthews

Matthews is solid shooter, especially from downtown, where he’s hitting almost 41% on the year. He’s active and physical and will be a tough cover for Rip. On the other end, Matthews is a persistent on-ball defender. He’ll spend the game in Rip’s jersey and look constantly to strip the ball on any drives, like he did against Harden in that OT game.

Rip is averaging 13 points this season on 45% shooting. That’s not bad, but there’s not much else to be said. He doesn’t shoot the 3-ball well, has become a bit of a defensive liability, and doesn’t get to the line as much as he used to.

Advantage: Blazers

Small Forward: Luol Deng vs. Nicolas Batum

This is a good matchup. Both Deng and Batum are good on-ball and help defenders with a lot of length. Both sometimes struggle to play aggressively but can be dangerous when they do. Deng gets the nod for shooting 49.6% overall, but Batum is shooting much better from the 3-pt line: 39.4% so far to Deng’s nauseating 26.9%.

Advantage: Even

The Bigs: Carlos Boozer & Joakim Noah vs. LaMarcus Aldridge & JJ Hickson

If he starts off slow, I can’t see Boozer getting a lot of burn with the starters tonight. He can’t even pretend to defend Aldridge, and an undersized hustle guy like Hickson almost requires an undersized hustle guy like Taj Gibson in return. It’d be great to see an aggressive Boozer back Hickson down on the post, but will that be the Boozer who shows up?

Noah vs. Aldridge is going to set the tone for this game. The Bulls interior defense and Noah’s length have as good a chance as any to push Aldridge to the perimeter, where Portland’s offensive scheme already has him sitting a lot, and where he’s been shooting pretty poorly (by his standards). On the offensive end, Noah needs to sink his open 15-footers and try to break down Aldridge and Hickson off the dribble for easy baskets or free throws.

Advantage: Bulls

What the Bulls need to do to win

Defensive rotations need to be crisp. If Lillard is allowed to penetrate and kick out to Batum and Matthews for open 3s or Aldridge for open looks at the elbow, the Blazers will put up points fast. And we know this Bulls team doesn’t do well when they have to score a lot.

They also need to box out. The Blazers are a solid rebounding team on both ends of the floor, led by Hickson’s energy, especially on the offensive glass. Put-backs will kill the Bulls if they allow it.

Outside of Hickson, the Blazers’ starters all play Deng and Noah-type minutes. It’s easy to see why when you look at their roster and see gems like Ronnie Price, Sasha Pavlovic, and Joel Freeland coming off the bench. The only real serviceable bench player they have is Meyers Leonard. He’s their center-of-the-future, but he’s still very raw.

If the Bulls can force the Blazers to execute in the halfcourt, contest at the 3-pt line, and keep Aldridge shooting long 2s, that’s a start. Get their starters in foul trouble and keep their bench on the floor, and the Bulls should get the win.

But the Blazers are a team full of young guys who won’t quit. I’ve watched a lot of Blazers basketball this season and seen them fight back several times from big deficits to make a game of it late. It’s won’t be easy.

Prediction: Bulls win 96-90.

Hit up Blazer’s Edge for the opposition’s take.

*Stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and do not reflect the turd dropped last night against the Clippers.

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