The Portland Trail Blazers have started shuffling their deck; though they’re not out of the payoff picture, they haven’t met up to lofty expectations this year. The Chicago Bulls lost their MVP to injury but still lay claim to being the beasts in the East after a signature win in their last outing. The new-look Blazers hit the road Friday night to take one the dominant Chicago Bulls in their only meeting of the season. Here’s a look at what to expect from both teams, plus my NBA picks for the game.
Portland Trail Blazers (20-23) @ Chicago Bulls (36-9), 8 p.m. ET
The Blazers have lost four of their last five games and seven of nine to fall out of the top eight spots in the West – and they also lost head coach Nate McMillan, who was fired Thursday The Blazers also traded away Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace, the Blazers will look different from the one that lost 121-79 at New York Wednesday night. Whether that will be good or bad, of course, remains to be seen. But for now, the Blazers did pick up Jonny Flynn and Mehmet Okur as possible starters, though they’ll be free agents at the end of the year. Statistically, this is a middle-of-the-pack team – it ranks 12 th in the league in scoring (97.1 ppg) and 13 th in scoring defense (95.2 ppg). Oh, and the team is just 6-16 away from home this year.
The Bulls established themselves again as the best in the East when they beat the No. 2 Miami Heat, 106-102, Wednesday night without reigning NBA MVP Derrick Rose. Overall, Chicago has won three straight and 11 of 12, the only blemish a 99-94 home hiccup to Orlando – just the Bulls’ third home loss in 21 dates this year. Chicago has been using defense all year, though it has looked human of late, giving up 97 or more points in each of the last five games – more than eight points per game over the teams’ season average. The team, however, is still be top rebounding team in the league (46 rpg), thanks to the efforts of Joakin Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng. The Bulls are tough to beat at home, but this might be a trap game, coming off the win over Miami .
The most recent NBA odds show the Bulls favored by 9 points, while the total is set at 193 points. The tough thing about the trade deadline is when teams change players, sometimes the opposing team has to figure out how the new players fit into the system being run. And after such a pivotal, emotional win vs. Miami without its best player (who may sit out again due to a tricky groin injury) and facing a wounded Blazers team with a new coach and a couple new players, this could easily be a game that Chicago could overlook. Portland won’t roll over with a new voice in the huddle, so this could easily be a closer game than it looks on paper. Chicago should still win, but don’t be surprised to see Portland in it with a chance to win in the fourth quarter.
Final Score Prediction: Bulls 98, Blazers 93