So, how are your brackets looking? Mine’s a bit of a wreck. That’s what you get when you pick Bucknell and New Mexico State to make it to the Sweet Sixteen.
There’s NBA basketball happening tonight, of course, and those Blazer fans who tune in to watch Portland go toe-to-toe with the Chicago Bulls, forgoing the evening session of NCAA games, can be commended on their unwavering fandom. Portland played very poorly in their last outing on this five-game road swing. They have two more games after tonight, both against playoff bound teams. You can be forgiven for checking out of Thursday’s game, Chicago plays a slowed down style of play that has been killing the Blazers as of late, and if Portland is gunning for one big win on this slog, my guess is their shooting to finish strong against the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Sunday.
Because Thursday is the first night of the NCAA Tournament proper, and because this game is fated to be a slog that probably won’t be very fun to watch, I’m going to keep this preview very short.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Bulls Starting 5: PG Nate Robinson, SG Marco Belinelli, SF Loul Deng, PF Carlos Boozer, C Joakim Noah
Match-up wise, this is the kind of game that certainly favors the Blazers. Style of play-wise, Chicago certainly has the edge. Chicago plays without a traditional center and has a point guard who doesn’t really play a lot of defense. I’d take Joakim Noah over J.J. Hickson, but the combined match-up of Damian Lillard/Hickson versus Nate Robinson/Noah has to tip Portland’s way.
The forward positions are close to a push. Loul Deng is more consistent on offense than Nicolas Batum, but LaMarcus Aldridge is like Carlos Boozer if Carlos Boozer was good. LA and Boozer prefer to shoot from outside the paint, but Aldridge has better moves around the basket. Batum can take advantage of Deng if he attacks the rim, the downside of that game plan is that Nic is not at his best with the ball in his hands.
Shooting guard could be the X-factor here. Wesley Matthews has been shooting the lights out as of late. If that keeps up, and shots fall for Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum, Portland has a significant edge. The flip-side is true too, though. If Marco Belinelli gets hot from deep, the Blazers are in trouble.
What to Watch For
- Does Portland believe they can win. Last time the Blazers played in Chicago, Nate McMillan had just been fired and a couple of rotation guys had changed teams. Portland, given no chance in that game, won. There’s no such adversity leading into this game. Things are rough right now, but not nearly as rough as last season. Nobody’s getting fired; nobody was traded. That being said, things aren’t going great right now for the Blazers. If they can harness some of that weird, backs-against-the-wall energy, they can beat the Bulls on the road. We’ll know right away if Portland believes they can win this game. If the Blazers can keep it close in the first quarter, they believe, if they’re down 10 or more inside of 12 minutes…
- Shooting. Portland competes when they knock down shots. If The Blazers can make threes and can knock down a couple mid-range looks, they’ll give themselves a chance.
- Pace. Portland needs to push the pace. Twenty-five points in the first quarter should be the Blazers’ goal.