This was the game I expected the Bulls to have against the Oklahoma City Thunder. This is what I have expected out of the Bulls against great competition for most of this season, and sadly, for one night, this is what Bulls fans got. Chicago sits with a 5-4 record which isn't so bad, but they've yet to beat a credible team to get there.
When playing an upper echelon team like the Clippers on Saturday night, the Bulls were completely outclassed. They made a short run at the backups to bring the lead down to 14 until Vinny Del Negro brought back the starters and we watched Blake Griffin annihilate Vladimir Radmanovic.
I normally won't second guess lineup decisions, but I don't get the concept of leaving Vladimir in the game at this point. Yes he was on the floor for the run, but he wasn't really contributing to it in any meaningful way, and he has no hope to contain Blake Griffin which became obvious when Griffin scored in seven of the nine next possessions for The Clippers to rack up 14 points and put the game out of reach.
Now Blake Griffin was largely held in check prior to this point, shooting 5/10 before this for 12 total points with four turnovers. Now he finishes the night 11/18 with 26 points and has a monster night. Somewhere there's a fantasy player cheering on Tom Thibodeau for keeping Radmanovic on Griffin for three straight minutes.
In fairness to Radman, Griffin did do much of his damage by knocking down long twos which you'll typically concede to him, but Noah wouldn't have had to give Griffin as much space and would have contested much better. In fairness to Thibs, he was probably just conceding a loss at this point as even when the Bulls made their run they were down 14 and had to play the Trailblazers the next night.
To the extent the Bulls were in this game, they were carried offensively by Boozer and Hamilton whom both had nice nights offensively for Chicago. We were treated to Stacey King discussing how Kirk needs to find his own offense rather than just pass the ball because his hesitancy to shoot was allowing Chris Paul to play overly aggressive defense.
Kirk shot 0-5 from the field with 10 assists. I think until Kirk shows he can shoot over 30% on a consistent basis that I'm just as content with him passing the ball and risking an overly aggressive defense.
Joakim Noah and Luol Deng both fell back to Earth after having a string of quality performances. Noah was 0-6 from the field with three turnovers while Deng shot just five of 16. The Bulls needed everyone to step up to win this game, and those two guys who've been the rocks for this team all season long didn't do it.
On to Portland
After getting blown out, the Bulls get a chance to get right back on the horse. The Blazers sit at 4-5, but their losses so far are all to good teams (Thunder, Mavs, Clippers, Spurs, Hawks -- okay stretching it there) while they've beaten the Lakers on opening night when they were entirely dysfunctional, the Rockets twice (but needed OT both times) and the Kings.
The Blazers look like a middle of the pack team right now, quite similar to our Chicago Bulls team. They've got home court, and I'd make them light favorites. That said, this is the type of game the Bulls need to prove they can win. They had a chance to win a similar type of game against the Celtics and came up short.
If Chicago's going to coast through the season only beating up the worst of the worst, then we're in for a long year. They need to prove themselves against the middle class in order to really keep the boat afloat for when Derrick Rose comes back and have a chance to do so tonight.
The Blazers play the crap out of their starters with Aldridge, Batum, Lillard, and Matthews all averaging over 38 minutes. J.J. Hickson plays 28, and the bench combines to fill in the gaps. Aldridge, Batum, and Lillard form their "big 3" and all average around 20 points per game.
This becomes an interesting offense vs defense battle, as the Bulls will likely match up with Noah on Aldridge and Deng on Batum giving them a strong defensive presence against two of the Blazers top offensive threats. My guess is that Lillard proves to athletic for Kirk Hinrich's defense which is fundamental and pesky but lacking in quickness.
The game likely hinges on who wins the offense/defense battle between the other two big scores and whether or not Chicago can find anyone to step up on offense for them. The Blazers don't have much shot blocking at the rim, but the Bulls don't have the players to take advantage of that either.
On paper, the teams match up fairly similarly, so let's see if the Bulls can dig down and get the win.