Game Details: Rose Garden, Portland, OR. 7:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM).
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6′2″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6′5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6′9″, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6′11″, Texas), C Joel Przybilla (#10, 7′1″, Minnesota)
Projected Chicago Starting Lineup: PG Derrick Rose (#1, 6’3″, Memphis), SG Keith Bogans (#6, 6’5″, Kentucky), SF Luol Deng (#9, 6’9″, Duke), PF Carlos Boozer (#5, 6’9″, Duke), C Kurt Thomas (#40, 6’9″, TCU)
The Blazers come into tonight’s game having previously escaped the humiliation that would have been losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but by a far narrower margin than would have been comfortable. Now, they welcome the Chicago Bulls to the Rose Garden to attempt to avenge the early-season blowout. It won’t be easy—the Bulls have, over the course of the 2010-11 season, grown into the Eastern Conference powerhouse we thought they’d be—but stranger things have happened. They did beat the Spurs convincingly last week.
The good news for the Blazers is the continued absence of Joakim Noah, one of the top rebounding centers in the league who surely would have feasted on the Blazers’ depleted frontcourt. The bad news: Carlos Boozer, Chicago’s marquee offseason free-agent pickup, has returned from the hand injury that sidelined him the first few months of the season and been every bit as effective as the Bulls hoped he’d be. This will be his first matchup with LaMarcus Aldridge since LA made the leap earlier this season into the elite class of power forwards. Their matchups had been pretty one-sided in previous years, a big part of the reason Utah largely had Portland’s number up until this season. It’ll be a hard-fought battle for Aldridge, but he’s due for an eff-you All-Star snub game against a good team, so there’s that.
The Bulls’ other major threat is, of course, Derrick Rose, who is having an MVP-caliber year at point guard. Gameplanning for Rose works the way gameplanning for any superstar does: don’t look to shut him down completely, just try to keep him from going off. Do that, and you have at least a fighting chance. Fail to do so and it won’t be pretty.
The timing of this matchup leaves a lot to be desired—a major reason for Chicago’s success is its depth, something Portland lacks at the moment. I don’t need to remind you what Luol Deng did the last time these teams played. He’s having something of a resurgence this season after a couple off-years. Beyond that, the Bulls have a solid cast of reserves, including Kyle Korver, whom you never want to leave open from deep, ever; second-year forward Taj Gibson, seeing bigger minutes in Noah’s absence; C.J. Watson, another deep shooting threat; and veteran guard Keith Bogans. Compare that to Portland, and the matchup is about as pretty as Dante Cunningham’s face after he suffered that ugly eye injury in Cleveland. Cunningham, as far as we know, is out tonight, leaving Patty Mills and Rudy Fernandez as the only bench players Portland can count on to contribute. Expect to see Sean Marks and Luke Babbitt get legitimate run tonight, which is never fun.
Portland can count itself lucky that Noah won’t be playing tonight, but this isn’t a matchup that favors the Blazers on almost any level. Portland could win, but a lot of things have to go right all at once for them: a huge game from Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews continuing the three-point shooting tear that was the lone bright spot of the Cavs game, Rudy and Patty contributing big minutes off the bench, and Joel Przybilla staying out of foul trouble. All of those things need to happen for Portland to have a shot. It’s not unthinkable, but it’s not likely either.