For the second time this week, the Bulls play the Trail Blazers — this time in Portland. The game tips off at 9 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here’s what to watch for:
Rebounding a key
On paper, the Trail Blazers are not a great rebounding group. In practice, they dominated the boards Monday at the United Center, out-rebounding the Bulls 61-44 (13-8 on the offensive glass, leading to 16 second-chance points). Whether you chalk that up to poor positioning, scrambled rotations or effort (or all three), that disparity must close Friday.
But a regression to the mean isn’t a guarantee. The Bulls followed up that Monday night performance with a 104-90 loss to Golden State on Wednesday, a loss in which the league-worst Warriors out-rebounded them 54-42. The Bulls’ two leading rebounders in that game were Wendell Carter Jr. (nine) and Tomas Satoransky (seven) — no one else had more than five. Given the swarming, physically-taxing style the Bulls like to play, finishing defensive possessions on the glass is imperative to preserving energy and mitigating against rotational breakdowns on second chances.
Lauri Markkanen, specifically, could use a get-right game in this department. He has five rebounds in his last two games, and only pulled down one board against Portland, Monday. He’ll also again take defensive responsibilities on Carmelo Anthony, who followed up a 25-point outing against the Bulls with a 19-point, 9-for-11 shooting performance against the Thunder on Wednesday. (Revenge-week Melo scary.)
Final note on this: Beware of Hassan Whiteside. Jim Boylen has made much of his exploits against the Bulls in the past, which proved prophetic on Monday: Whiteside had 13 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and affected countless looks at the rim in the game. He currently ranks second in the NBA among qualified players in Reb% (20.6%) and has propped up a depleted Blazers front court early in the season.
A man on fire
For extended stretches of this season, Zach LaVine has kept the Bulls offense afloat. Even in a slew of recent defeats, it’s been quite fun to watch:
His surface-level numbers over the last three games (34.3 points per game, 55.4% shooting on 21.7 FGA, 58.1% from three on 10.3 3PA) are just ridiculous. Yes, the absurdity of those numbers is largely buoyed by his 49-point, 13-three pointer night in Charlotte. And yes, he couldn’t singlehandedly keep the Bulls in their last matchup with Portland on Monday..
But he did get off to a hot start in that game, scoring nine first-quarter points and leading the Bulls to a 28-27 advantage after one. Things obviously got away from the Bulls quickly after that, but a Trail Blazers team that — for all their offensive dynamism — lacks lock-down defensive presence on the perimeter, still presents a favorable matchup for LaVine. Even if the Bulls, as a team, can’t right the ship, he should get his buckets, and that’s appointment television.
Per Jim Boylen, Chandler Hutchison (right shoulder) has already been ruled out for Friday night’s game, and Tomas Satoransky (sprained toe) is questionable and a game-time decision.
Hutchison injured his right shoulder early in Wednesday’s loss to the Warriors, marking the fifth consecutive game that the Bulls have been mostly without him. It has yet to be announced who will slide into the starting lineup, but safe money is on Shaq Harrison, who has started in Hutchison’s place three times this season. Denzel Valentine (40% three-point shooting in his last three games) is another candidate to see more run.
Satoransky’s designation is a bit more surprising — he apparently suffered a sprained big left toe in Wednesday's loss and didn't participate in shootaround this morning. If he misses tonight’s game or is at all hampered, his length and activity will be missed, both on the glass and defensively, against one of the more dynamic backcourts in the league in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. He's also been one of the offensive few bright spots in a bleak stretch of the season, averaging 13.3 points, 6.7 assists and five rebounds on 50% shooting (40% from three) in his last three games.
Kris Dunn and Coby White (alert the #StartCoby hive) would be candidates to start in his place. If Boylen has to break up his bench unit (something he’s been reluctant to do), keep an eye out for any other rotation experiments he might try.