Trail Blazers vs. Bulls: Postgame Grades and Analysis for Chicago

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 21, 2013

Trail Blazers vs. Bulls: Postgame Grades and Analysis for Chicago

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    In one of the more lopsided 10-point games I can remember watching, the Chicago Bulls (36-31) fell to the Portland Trail Blazers (32-36) 99-89 on Thursday night.

    All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and rising star Damian Lillard paced Portland's attack combining for 52 points in the game.

    The Bulls had good reason to be looking forward to this game. The sting from their 119-118 loss to the Denver Nuggets, a game that featured a potential game-winning tip from Joakim Noah that was ruled offensive interference after video review, was fresh on their minds.

    Coach Tom Thibodeau's injury-depleted roster also returned two healthy enough bodies to the rotation. Taj Gibson suited up after missing the past 10 games with an MCL injury in his right knee. Kirk Hinrich also played after sitting out the previous seven contests with a sore foot.

    But it was the Trail Blazers who were the aggressors early. They held the Bulls to a frigid 3-of-12 start from the field, before Thibodeau's squad rallied to hold a narrow 21-20 lead after the first quarter.

    Once play resumed in the second quarter, Chicago's offensive struggles resurfaced. The team's first six offensive possessions yielded four errant attempts, two turnovers and zero points. The Bulls mustered just 16 points in the quarter, while the Trail Blazers doubled them up at the other end with 32.

    The third quarter saw much of the same as Portland widened the gap with a commanding 28-16 edge. The Bulls' bench put a little scare into the Trail Blazers down the stretch, but it wasn't enough to prevent Chicago's sixth loss in its last eight games.

Point Guard: Kirk Hinrich

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    Kirk Hinrich's return to the Windy City hasn't gone nearly the way either side had planned.

    He was added to be a stop-gap solution in Derrick Rose's absence, then a possible backcourt mate upon the former MVP's return.

    With Rose's activity limited to the practice floor, Hinrich has been tasked with keeping the team relevant. He's battled injuries all season and has never looked comfortable on the floor.

    This game was no different. His shooting struggles (he entered the game with a career-worst 38.5 field-goal percentage) continued. Maybe he wasn't impressed by what he saw from his teammates, but he settled for outside more often than he should have.

    He finished the night just 1-of-7 from the field and missed all four of his three-point attempts. He was equally forgettable as a playmaker, dishing out three assists (while turning the ball over twice) in his 20-plus minutes.

    Defensively, he looked a noticeable step slower than Rookie of the Year front-runner Lillard (24 points, seven assists). When Lillard's backup Eric Maynor (eight points) took the floor, even he had his way with Hinrich.


    Grade: D

Shooting Guard: Marco Belinelli

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    Marco Belinelli has a clearly identifiable role on this roster.

    He's a shooter first and foremost, with any offense he finds off the dribble being found money. Chicago needed an outside threat to keep pace with the blistering Blazers' marksmen, but Belinelli never found his stroke.

    On one hand, he lucked into a defensive matchup with Wesley Matthews as the University of Marquette product seemed content to let his teammates do the offensive damage. On the other hand, that kept Matthews, already the superior athlete, with fresh legs on the defensive end.

    Matthews is a well-respected defender and flexed his defensive chops. Belinelli couldn't get anything going from deep (his lone made three came long after the game had been decided) and couldn't jump start his offense off the dribble.

    He showed a little more life as a playmaker (five assists, zero turnovers), but it wasn't enough to make up for his woeful shooting display (3-of-10 from the field).

    Grade: C-

Small Forward: Luol Deng

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    Luol Deng essentially faced a showdown with himself in this game in the form of Portland's Nicolas Batum. Both players are incredibly versatile, deceptively athletic and worthy of defensive attention from anywhere on the floor.

    In that regard, the matchup played out as it should have been expected. The pair basically cancelled each other out.

    As strong as the duo are on the offensive end, they're far more pesky defensively. They closed the driving and slashing lanes for one another and largely limited the other's perimeter chances.

    Thanks to Chicago's lethargic performance, this was almost a night off for Deng. The league leader in minutes played this season, at 38.9 per game, logged under 27 in the game.

    He was a non-factor on offense. His five points (on 2-of-7 shooting) was his second-lowest total of the season. He had just two rebounds and two assists on the night.

    He forced Batum to take 12 shots for his 11 points, but the Bulls needed a lot more from him offensively.


    Grade: C-

Power Forward: Carlos Boozer

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    If you focus on just the base statistics, it looks Carlos Boozer had a nice night. Had you told Bulls' fans they'd be getting 16 points and 11 rebounds out of him, they would have gladly taken it.

    But looking a bit deeper at the numbers shows it was a far more pedestrian effort.

    Boozer needed 18 shots to get those points, eight of which came in the first quarter. His 11 boards in 32 minutes are nothing to scoff at, but in actuality he got owned by Portland's J.J. Hickson on the glass (21 rebounds, 34 minutes). It's not as if Boozer was vacating his position to challenge shots, he was just getting outworked around the basket.

    The Bulls' charge started far too late in this game and only took place when Chicago forced the tempo. Not surprisingly, a frenetic offensive attack meant that Boozer was no different than you and I during that run—an observer.


    Grade: B-

Center: Joakim Noah

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    Joakim Noah looked like he was well on his way to one of those special outings after tallying six points, five rebounds and two assists in eight first-quarter minutes. Truth be told, his assist numbers should have been even better, but his teammates couldn't always finish his setups.

    But Noah struggled to keep his energy up as Portland's lead increased. He was productive with his offensive touches (18 points, 7-of-10 from the field), but wasn't receiving the high-quality he needs to find buckets.

    Defensively he kept LaMarcus Aldridge away from the paint, but the All-Star had no problems finding his mid-range touch (28 points, 14-of-23). And Noah, the league's fourth-best rebounder coming into the game, didn't show the same hustle we're used to seeing on the glass (six rebounds in nearly 27 minutes).

    Noah's going to have the quickness edge down low on most nights. But Portland's athletic frontcourt had little trouble in dealing with it.


    Grade: B-

Sixth Man: Nate Robinson

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    Nate Robinson can be such a valuable piece for this team. If he'd ever let himself be one, that is.

    When the Bulls' second unit sliced into the Blazers' lead late in the game, Robinson was the one leading the charge. He pushed the ball up court, probed Portland's defense and awakened the United Center faithful with a thunderous throwdown on the break.

    Although it works against conventional wisdom, his decision-making improves as the pace increases. He's never going to a be real floor general, but more games like this (9 assists to just 2 turnovers) will make you wonder why he won't.

    His shots didn't always come within the offensive flow (14 points, 4-of-12 from the field), but his decision to force the issue could have been the single greatest contribution from any Chicago player in the game.

    Chicago's bread and butter lies on the defensive end. But with Robinson and some of his athletic peers on the bench, the Bulls can find success on the run.


    Grade: B+

Rest of Bulls' Bench

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    Taj Gibson proved his worth in this game, if for nothing more than allowing Thibodeau the option to cycle through a true frontcourt rotation. He was the best athletic match to contend with Aldridge, Hickson and rookie Meyers Leonard, and breathed some life into the building with his energetic play.

    His stat line (14 points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes) is what coaches are looking for from their first big off the bench. The presence of Boozer and Noah will hold him out of the starting five, but Gibson will still find a way to make an impact.

    Jimmy Butler had the dunk of the night exploding through the back end of a Robinson toss for a one-handed jam. The play came early on when the offense was struggling and had the potential to change the momentum.

    But it wasn't Butler's only contribution on the night. He poured in 12 points (4-of-7 from the field) in 27 minutes and flashed his typical suffocating defense.

    Nazr Mohammed didn't see the floor until the fourth quarter. But once he did, he never came off of it. He found a couple buckets near the paint (four points) and grabbed three rebounds.

    Marquis Teague made a late appearance, finishing with three points, two assists and two fouls in an active 90 seconds.

    Grade: B+