PORTLAND, Ore. — The dreaded “Circus Trip” is upon the Bulls: six games where players won’t have anyone but their teammates and coaches to see every day for the next week and a half.
Traditionally, the intangible goal is to develop some chemistry in closed quarters and hostile environments, with wins being hard to come by — especially on this five-game set out west before going to Philadelphia the day after Thanksgiving.
“Everyone has this longer road trip in the NBA. The Bulls have a cool name in the Circus Trip,” guard Dwyane Wade said after the morning shootaround before the Bulls' game against the Portland Trailblazers Tuesday. “The Heat didn’t have one. San Antonio got a cool name: the Rodeo Trip. The Clippers have the Grammy Trip. We didn’t have one in Miami. It’s the same thing. It’s good. It’s a time you get out here and you’re playing the best talent in the NBA in the Western Conference. You build confidence by being able to get wins out here.”
Finding wins against the likes of Portland, Utah, a better-than-expected Lakers team, a Clippers team that’s steamrolling everybody and the Denver Nuggets squad that gave the Trailblazers fits in Portland recently will be the toughest tests to date for a Bulls team that’s struggled on the road.
Wade called the offensively-potent backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum the second-best in the NBA behind Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Lillard is averaging over 30 a game and McCollum, last year’s Most Improved Player winner, is averaging over 22. That’s nearly half the Blazers’ scoring output, and with Rajon Rondo struggling defensively, it puts the spotlight on the perimeter defense.
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“When you have guys who put up 45 to 50-plus points, that’s tough,” Wade said. “That’s what you gotta worry about when you worry about them offensively. But then you have to worry about all the intangibles with the other guys who will give them other opportunities by rebounding and running the floor.”
In the Bulls’ losses, every one of them have come from slow starts in the first quarter. Considering Portland’s Moda Center is one of the better homecourt advantages in the league, along with the Blazers’ style of getting up shots early and often, it may not be long before Monday’s outcome is decided if the Bulls can’t handle the early onslaught.
“They’re a team that gets out of the gate very fast in this building, so we’ve got to do a good job executing our transition defense,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Just go out there and try and slow them down as much as possible, but you can’t get deflated if Lillard pulls up and hits a 35-footer coming down over half-court.”
“It’s just something you can’t put your head down, you gotta keep playing, and try and weather their spurts because they’re a team that once they get going they’re tough to slow down and stop.”
As for a goal on the trip, Wade said breaking even is the goal, as he’s stated going .500 on the road for the entire season is the starting point to become a good team.
“50. Always a success when you can break 50,” Wade said. “If you go 4-2, you’re good. You go 5-1, ooh. I always go with that mindset, ‘Hey, you go on a six-game trip and you go 3-3, it’s a solid trip for you.’ You go anything over that, it’s love.”