In a battle between two postseason contenders struggling to string together victories, the Portland Trail Blazers will travel to play the Chicago Bulls. The question is, which inter-conference foe will be able to improve their postseason standing?
Let's find out.
Portland is 31-36 on the season and 3.0 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for eighth in the Western Conference. Unfortunately for their chances of achieving victories, they're merely 9-25 on the road.
They're also 13-14 against the East.
Chicago, meanwhile, has gone 36-30 on the season and 18-15 at home. They're .5 games behind the Atlanta Hawks for fifth in the East and in sole possession of sixth by virtue of a tiebreaker over the Boston Celtics.
They're 10-17 against the West.
Time: Thursday, Mar. 21 at 8:00 p.m. EDT
TV: CSNN & CSNC
Records: Portland Trail Blazers (31-36) at Chicago Bulls (36-30)
Betting Line: N/A
Portland Trail Blazers Injury Report
Victor Claver, Sprained Ankle, Out
Sasha Pavlovic, Bruised Right Quad, Out
Elliot Williams, Torn Left Achilles Tendon, Out
Chicago Bulls Injury Report
Taj Gibson, Sprained Left MCL, Questionable
Richard Hamilton, Back Spasms, Doubtful
Kirk Hinrich, Sore Right Foot, Questionable
Key Storyline: Chicago Exacts Revenge
The Chicago Bulls lost to the Portland Trail Blazers on November 18, 2012 by a score of 102-94. Six Blazers were into double-figures and the Bulls ultimately lost a devastating game.
There time for revenge is now.
Chicago is in desperate need for a victory, as they've gone 8-13 during their past 21 games. They're falling down the Eastern Conference standings and moving closer to an insurmountable first round task.
Can they save their season from a free fall with a win here?
Key Matchup: Joakim Noah vs. J.J. Hickson
Joakim Noah is an All-Star and the front runner for the 2013 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. He's also a monster on the glass, a versatile scorer and one of the best energy players in the league.
Just don't think he'll hold too much of an advantage over Portland's J.J. Hickson.
Hickson is currently fifth in the NBA with 37 double-doubles in 65 games. For the season, he's averaging 13.2 points and 10.7 rebounds per contest.
Expect Hickson and Noah to battle for 48 minutes.
Noah is expected to get the best of Hickson, specifically on his own court. With that being said, Hickson is likely to bounce back after posting 10 points and four rebounds during their first meeting.
The player that wins this battle will win the game.
X-Factor: Eric Maynor, Portland Trail Blazers
When the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Chicago Bulls in November, reserve point guard Ronnie Price contributed 10 points. Considering Price is no longer with the team, it's on his replacement, Eric Maynor, to shine.
Maynor is a capable contributor, which has been on full display since joining the Blazers. In 21.4 minutes, Maynor is averaging 7.6 points and 4.0 assists on a slash line of .463/.381/.737.
The Blazers are going to need all of that production to secure this W.
Chicago is run thin by injuries, but they remain an elite defensive team. They will smother the Trail Blazers' starting lineup, which will place a burden upon Portland's reserves.
It's up to Maynor to provide that level of production.
Who will win?
When the Chicago Bulls host the Portland Trail Blazers, it will be a battle of two teams that are equally capable of achieving victory. We'll also see two teams that have been decimated by injuries.
So who will hold on for a needed victory?
Entering the game, Portland is just 9-25 on the road. While Chicago is a lackluster 18-15 at home, the Bulls hold a significant advantage over the Blazers in that regard.
It will show.
Through all of the injuries, the Bulls still have Joakim Noah to man the paint. LaMarcus Aldridge will step out and give Carlos Boozer trouble, but Noah's contributions along the interior will not go unnoticed.
Behind Luol Deng's timely contributions, Chicago will hold on for an ugly win.
Chicago Bulls 89, Portland Trail Blazers 81