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Chicago vs. Portland Preview: Rondo-less Bulls Seek to Take Down Trail Blazers (Again)

After a weird stretch last week, the Bulls will try for a season sweep of the Blazers this evening.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, the Chicago Bulls will take on the Portland Trail Blazers for the second time in three weeks. The game already has some controversey surrounding it in that the team suspended Rajon Rondo for apparently getting into a heated exchange with a Bulls assistant following his stinker of a game against the Mavericks on Saturday night. Thus, fans can likely expect some extended burn for Jerian Grant and Isaiah Canaan this evening when it comes to manning the point guard spot.

Coincidentally enough, when the Bulls took down the Blazers in Portland back in mid-November, they did so without Rondo, whom was nursing an ankle injury at the time. Instead of his absence having any hindering effect on the offense (lol), the Bulls proceeded to explode out of the gate with a 35-14 first quarter and a subsequent 113-88 victory. All five of the Bulls starters reached double figures, and three Bulls recorded double-doubles thanks to grabbing 11+ rebounds each. Jerian Grant played by far the best game of his career as a Chicago Bull; putting up 18 points while shooting 40% on threes and snagging five steals. He also had a pretty nice crossover on Damian Lillard:

As for the Blazers, in the two games I have watched them this season, I can tell you with full confidence that they are far and away the worst defensive team in the NBA (although they are still missing Al Farouq-Aminu—their best defender—due to injury). Other than the Bulls game, I had the pleasure of watching the Cavaliers take a dinosaur-sized dump on them while visiting family in Ohio for Thanksgiving, and I couldn’t believe what I was watching. As if Kevin Love pouring in 34 points by himself in the first quarter on them wasn’t bad enough, the Cavs proceeded to drop 137 points on them as a team in regulation. Though that was by far their worst defesive performance of the season, it was far from an outlier other than Love’s Klay Thompson-esque perimeter shooting. In nearly a third of their games thus far this season, the Blazers have surrendered 120 or more points to the other team. Granted, they can catch fire themselves pretty easily thanks to Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but it’s hard to fear a team that ranks dead last in defensive efficiency in the entire association. When coupling that with a 25th overall rebounding rate, this team matches up very poorly against Chicago.

With Dwyane Wade coming off a full game’s rest and Butler looking to have a bounce-back night after Saturday, I would expect the offense to come out humming. I would also look for Jerian Grant to play with great confidence given how he fared against this team such a short while ago. However, even with the offense essentially guaranteed to score in Big Mac territory, it will still be crucial for the Bulls to play good perimeter defense against Lillard and McCollum. Both players had very atypical games against the Bulls in their previous contest, combining to shoot 14-39 from the field while Lillard only made one of his five threes. Grant should anticipate Lillard looking to be aggressive from three for a bounce-back performance, so hopefully he’ll be up to the task as he was back in November.

Given how well the Bulls seem to play without Rondo, Wade having rested on last weekend’s back-to-back, and Portland’s lack of defensive options for Butler, this should go down as a victory for Chicago. The Bulls should also win the battle on the boards quite easily, as they did in their last game versus the Blazers 75 (!!!) to 54. I look forward to seeing how Jerian Grant plays on both ends of the floor, and if he ends up having yet another solid performance against one of the NBA’s most popular stars, the Bulls will definitely have to consider moving Rondo as the trade window sets to open later this month.

Tip is at 7:00 CT on Comcast SportsNet. Doug McDermott remains assigned to the D-League as he recovers from a concussion, and therefore is still out.