The Bulls have been playing extremely short-handed of late, so conventional wisdom said that getting Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson back against the Blazers on Thursday was going to be a positive. Suffice to say, that didn't turn out to be the case. After a competitive first quarter, the Blazers mostly had their way with the Bulls, winning 99-89 in a game that was not nearly as close as the final score would indicate.
This game was all about Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, who pick-and-popped the Bulls to death almost from the very get-go. Aldridge got the Blazers going with 10 points in the first quarter, and he also made some big plays in the fourth as the Bulls threatened to comeback. The man who was traded for Tyrus Thomas finished the night with a game-high 28 points on 14-of-23 shooting.
Lillard may have been even more impressive, controlling the pace and showing off a pretty shooting stroke. The return of Hinrich did little to stop Lillard, as the likely Rookie of the Year scored 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting and 4-of-7 from three. Lillard also had seven assists, setting up Aldridge time and again and helping to create open looks for the other Blazers shooters. Portland went 10-of-21 from three-point land, as opposed to just 4-of-14 for the Bulls.
Meanwhile, the Bulls' offense was in a funk for essentially the first three quarters. Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer were the only guys who could really get anything going, as the Bulls' guards and wings outside of Jimmy Butler simply stunk up the joint. Luol Deng was darn near invisible, taking only three shots in the first half and finishing just 2-of-7 from the field. Deng's offensive struggles have been pretty well documented of late, and it's almost painful to see him labor his way through some games these days.
The starting backcourt was arguably worse, with Hinrich and Marco Belinelli combining for nine points on 4-of-17 shooting and 1-of-7 from three. Hinrich had just three assists in two turnovers and was limited to a Bogans-ish (or is it Rip-ish?) 21 minutes. Humorously, the suspended Kendall Gill tweeted early in the game how glad he was to have Hinrich back because the offense just "looked" better, which simply wasn't the case tonight (even if it is often true). And Belinelli was just all over the place. I really have no clue what the hell he was doing out there.
The Bulls did make a bit of a run in the fourth quarter after getting outscored 60-32 in the middle two quarters, but it was too little too late. It sure would have been nice to see the same intensity brought early in the game when it was still a contest, but I'm sure part of the comeback was fueled by an apathetic Blazers team that was just playing out the string.
This is certainly a bad loss for the Bulls, as the Blazers are a very mediocre team that has been awful on the road this year. But the Bulls are pretty mediocre themselves at this point, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that they got their ass kicked by a Western Conference team, something that has happened quite often this season.
On a positive note, Gibson did look pretty good with 14 points and nine rebounds in his return to the lineup, and there were a few sweet dunks by Butler and Nate Robinson. But that's about all I got. Pacers on Saturday.