Well Pippen Peoples, we are now at the final stretch of the season. Now the Chicago Bulls are tied in the loss column with the Toronto Raptors for the third seed in the Leastern Conference. Tonight the Bulls face the Portland Trailblazers who is coming off a 100-85 win over the Atlanta Hawks, the number eight seed in the playoff chase. Portland welcomed back an old friend in LaMarcus Aldridge who finished with his 37th double-double of the season with 25 points and 16 rebounds. Damian Lillard scored 21 points in support as the Blazers hold on to the fifth spot in the Western Conference standings. The Atlanta Hawks have lost five straight and are now 11/2 games in front on the New York Knicks for the eighth and final spot in the East.
Portland has fallen a few notches since the fast start to the season. The Blazers had lost seven of their last ten going into the game against the Hawks. For the time being, one could blame the back injury of Aldridge for the recent troubles of the Blazers, but they were on a downward spiral before the injury. Portland’s problem is on the defensive end. They have had major slippage since the All-star break. Plus they are a perimeter team that depend solely on their shot making to win games. Seems simple, but if that outside shot is not falling for the Blazers, it turns out to be a very long night for them.
This is a very important and winnable game for the Bulls tonight. With the Wizards doing a free-fall these days. The Charlotte Bobcats can overtake them for the sixth seed. The Bulls match up very well with Charlotte. But first things first. The Bulls have to contain the guards Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews and Mo Williams. LeMarcus Aldridge will be a factor but it’s these three that will determine who wins tonight. Kirk Hinrich, DJ Augustin and Jimmy Butler have to keep Lillard out of the lane breaking down the defense with dribble penetration. Make Liillard a jump shooter. Mo Williams is an X-factor in this game coming off the bench. If he comes in and gets his rhythm, it could be a long night for the Bulls. He can’t get his own shot so the Bulls have to chase him off his shot. Wesley Matthews is a notoriously streaky shooter but if he gets hot from behind the arc, watch out!
Joakim Noah is going to have to look for his offense in this game. He needs the frontline of the Blazers to worry about him being a threat to score the ball. That way it will open up lanes for the offense. The Bulls cannot turn the ball over with Portland because if they get out on the break, the Bulls could get run out of the gym. Someone for the Bulls is going to bring their jump shot to the game tonight. The Blazers do have a formidable frontline with Robin Lopez, Nicolas Batum and Thomas Robinson coming off the bench to team with Aldridge. The Bulls have the edge as always on defense. The question is will the offense show up?
Carlos Boozer is reportedly whining (again) about everything from playing time to how his future is going to be played out in the summer. Here’s the good news Pippen Peoples. It seems that Boozer always comes to play after a hissy fit. This is a good thing because he will come out aggressive and take the ball to hole and rebound a little. As for his defense, well we can all hope can’t we? If he draws Robin Lopez as his assignment he can use his quickness to get to the basket and hopefully get Lopez in foul trouble. If he draws Aldridge he can draw him from the basket which should open lanes for Noah and the rest of the crew.
Usually the bench is not a problem for the Bulls, but let’s hope that continues tonight. Taj Gibson and DJ Augustin have been counted on heavily for scoring off the bench. This especially holds true for Augustin, who has held down the fort at the point guard position while Kirk Hinrich has played feast or famine the last few weeks with that jump shot of his. Mostly famine.
This is one of those touch and go games if you are a Chicago Bulls fan. The Blazers are in the middle of a back to back while the Bulls haven’t played in a few days after beating the Indiana Pacers 89-77. This was a huge win for the Bulls. That’s the good news. The bad news is the Bulls are known for let downs coming out of big games. Remember what happened after the big win vs. Miami? The Bulls came out very flat against the San Antonio Spurs and the Spurs walked the dog on them. With playoff seed implications at stake right now, the Bulls do not need a repeat performance of that tonight.