Tonight, our 24-27 Chicago Bulls will host one of the league’s other depressingly “mid” teams with one All-Star, the 26-26 Portland Trail Blazers.
The Bulls will at least be better-rested, as Portland will be playing the second night of a back-to-back pair of games, having vanquished the Washington Wizards (like Chicago, another Eastern Conference play-in tournament hopeful) 124-116 last night in D.C. Portland’s prolific undersized starting backcourt of Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons combined for 62 points on 20-of-39 shooting (12-of-22 from deep) to pilot the winning effort.
As always, the big issue with this Chicago team is three-point shooting, on both ends: the Bulls’ perimeter defense without Lonzo Ball has been lacking (Alex Caruso can only play so many minutes, after all) as has its volume of triples attempted per game. It will be imperative for AC and Ayo Dosunmu to pressure Lillard and Simons early and often, and look to get the ball out of their hands when possible. The third-most important Blazer to stop is power forward Jerami Grant, a versatile big who can credibly defend 2-4, nail an open three (he’s making 42% of his 5.2 triples a game), and take it to the rack. He could be an intriguing 2023 free agent option for Chicago... along with the rest of the NBA.
Nikola Vucevic, should he be able to play (more on that below), needs to take advantage of the injury absence of starting Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic tonight inside, and body up his understudy Drew Eubanks. Chicago’s lone All-Star this season, small forward DeMar DeRozan, has had a fairly quiet week, averaging 17.5 points in games against the LA Clippers and Charlotte Hornets on 38.7% field goal shooting. It’d be nice if the Bulls’ best player could return to his King of the Fourth clutch-ness tonight.
On paper, assuming the Bulls’ injury question marks do suit up, Chicago should win tonight. But when has an on paper edge actually been an accurate predictive blueprint for this most inscrutable of teams?
Injury Report: It appears the Bulls’ already-thin roster has been beset by the injury bug, even beyond the two guys who are perennially recovering from knee scopes. Nikola Vucevic (probable with a left quad contusion), Alex Caruso (questionable with left midfoot soreness), and Patrick Williams (questionable with a right ankle sprain) might all sit, thanks to injuries they incurred during Thursday’s revenge win against MJ’s Hornets.
Portland will be without starting five Jusuf Nurkic, who will be shelved through the All-Star break with a left calf strain. As we said above, Drew Eubanks (ahem) drew the start in Nurk’s stead yesterday. After getting a long-term NBA commitment for the first time this summer, journeyman reserve guard Gary Payton II has missed all but 12 games for Portland this season, and is out with a non-COVID-19 illness.
Game Time: 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago.