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Bulls head out for their final (!) Circus Trip

a tradition ends this year

NBA: Washington Wizards at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday night the Chicago Bulls begin their annual Circus Road Trip. And according to Fred Hoiberg, per the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, this will be their last one.

The Bulls west coast road trip will feature six games lasting just over two weeks. During their trip the Bulls will still be without Michael Carter-Williams who is rehabbing his knee injury, while Doug McDermott will miss Tuesday night’s contest in Portland at least. It’s likely he’ll miss Thursday’s game in Utah, but there is a possibility that he could join the team at some point during the trip depending on how he’s feeling and if he passes concussion protocol.

With MCW and now McDermott out for an unknown timeframe, the Bulls recalled new signee RJ Hunter from the Windy City Bulls for the trip. And it also it opens the door for several players to find minutes: Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine, Paul Zipser.

The first three games will an extremely tough test as they come against Western Conference playoffs teams.

Tuesday, November 15th @ Portland

The Bulls have never fared well in the Moda Ce...nope still calling it the Rose Garden.

It’s probably fair to say that this will be the Bulls backcourt’s biggest test of the trip, as they go up against one of the league’s most dynamic duos in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Both are potent scorers who are capable of going off for 30+ a piece on any given night. For Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, this is going to be a nightmare matchup for them defensively.

Something to watch during this game is how the Bulls bigs, namely Robin Lopez, defend the pick-and-roll. While the other Bulls bigs will be more aggressive in defending the PnR; hedging and trapping, Lopez traditional sags back on such plays. That could spell disaster going up against Lillard and McCollum who if you give them a sliver of space, will pull up from anywhere on the court.

After Monday’s practice Hoiberg stated that Grant could see time exclusively during Tuesday’s game to help slow down the two (yikes!). But needless to say, it’s going to need to be a team effort from guys like Grant, Jimmy Butler and even Isaiah Canaan in trying to contain them. Buckle up for this one.

Note: The Bulls are third in the league in overall rebounding percentage at 53.7, while the Blazers are dead last at 45.9.

Thursday, November 17th @ Utah

This team is an absolute problem. Now and for the foreseeable future.

They feature a top five defense along with some of the best ball movement you’ll see outside of the Spurs and Warriors. The matchup to watch during this game will be between the bigs for each team. Lopez and Taj Gibson and company will be going up against Rudy Gobert and the ever underrated Derrick Favors. Whoever wins that battle may ultimately decide the outcome.

However just as much as the bigs could decide the outcome, it may also be whether or not Jazz point guard George Hill plays. He’s currently missed five straight games with a sprained thumb and it’s still unknown if he’ll play Thursday night. But if he does, the Bulls will have their hands full as he’s playing the best basketball of his career and is the engine behind the Jazz’s early season success.

There’s a chance we even see some Paul Zipser Thursday night, as Hoiberg noted that he might try to match him up against Utah’s Gordon Hayward.

Note: As of Monday night, the Bulls are first in the league in offensive rebounding percentage at 30.5, and the Jazz are first in defensive rebounding percentage at 81.6.

Saturday, November 19th @ LAC

What else can you say about this team? They have the best record in the league and are playing some extraordinary basketball. The Clippers have the eighth best offense in the league to go with the league’s best defense and overall net rating.

This game could inevitably come down to who on the Clippers can slow down Jimmy Butler, and can the Bulls point guards prevent Chris Paul from completely taking over the game.

As with Utah, Saturday night’s game could be one where Hoiberg needs to match Gibson and Lopez’s minutes with the opposing team’s starters, in this case Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. But it could also be one in which we could (i.e. should) see Cristiano Felicio enter the lineup again. With the big man matchups with the Clippers and Jazz, they present disadvantages for Bobby Portis because of his size and general inability to adequately defend. With Felicio’s size and competence on the defensive end, he should see minutes again in these two games. If not, then Fred could be digging himself a deeper hole.

Note: The Clippers are fourth in the league in points off turnovers at 19 per game. And one of the Bulls biggest weaknesses this season has been transition defense.

The final three games of the Bulls circus trip come against teams that more than likely will not be in the post season. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be cakewalks either.

Sunday, November 20th @ LA Lakers

Sunday’s game is the Bulls only back-to-back during their trip, but it comes the night after playing the Clippers in the same building. It’ll be interesting to see how Hoiberg manages Dwyane Wade’s minutes not only during this two game stretch, but the trip in general. Don’t be surprised if Wade sits out either the Clippers game or the Lakers.

The Lakers have a very good young core, albeit a very young one at that. But, this team is well coached by first year man Luke Walton. He has them playing inspired basketball and has implemented much of what the Warriors have done over the past three seasons.

Probably the biggest emphasis during this game is containing their scorers; D’Angelo Russell, Nick Young, Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson. Any one of these players, if they get it going early, it’s going to be a very long night. It’s going to be key for the Bulls to keep these guys in check from the beginning.

Note: The Lakers are fifth in the league in turnover ratio at 16.9.

Tuesday, November 22nd @ Denver

Woo boy, the Bulls do not play well in Denver, and haven’t won there in ten years.

The Nuggets are the best rebounding team in the league collecting 54.5% of available rebounds per game. Because of their rebounding, they’re able to gather second chance points, which their second in the league in, and get to the free throw line as well, third in the league.

That aside, it would appear that the Bulls will have a big advantage on the offensive end with Butler and Wade. It’ll be important that those two easy looks early on, and take advantage of their matchups.

Note: Denver is third in the league in free throw rate, but the Bulls are first in the league in opponent free throw rate, only allowing a mark of 0.196.

Friday, November 25th @ Philadelphia

This could be a trap game as it’s the Bulls final game of the road trip and it comes on the day after Thanksgiving.

But these are still the Sixers. Yes, Joel Embiid is a national treasure right now, but this should be one the Bulls run away with. Philly, though they do have a lot of young and intriguing talent, are near the bottom in a majority of the advanced stats. This is a team however, if you give them daylight early will stick around, so the Bulls need to put this one away from the tip.

Note: Please enjoy Joel Embiid.

This six game road trip will tell us a lot about the Bulls. Will they go undefeated? No, of course not. Going back over 15 years, the Bulls have had a losing record during this annual trip. That aside, a good, logical expectation for this team is to finish the stretch 3-3, come home with a 9-7 record. Anything better would be sensational, anything less wouldn’t be surprising.