Thu, 07 Dec 2023

Bulls, Blazers battle with both making late playoff push

Field Level Media
24 Mar 2023, 10:19 GMT+10

The Chicago Bulls are showing signs of making a late-season dash as they look for their sixth victory in eight games when they visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night.

Chicago (34-38) is in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, possessing the final play-in berth by 1 1/2 games over the Indiana Pacers. But the Bulls are also just a half-game behind the ninth-place Toronto Raptors and 1 1/2 games behind the eighth-place Atlanta Hawks.

Chicago is coming off a two-game split with the third-place Philadelphia 76ers. The Bulls recorded a 109-105 double-overtime road win on Monday before being pummeled 116-91 at home on Wednesday.

The Bulls dug themselves early deficits of 17-0 and 23-1 in the rematch.

"We didn't make shots early on, and before you know it, it's 23-1," Chicago guard Zach LaVine said. "Against a team like that, against that deficit, it's going to be tough to crawl back out."

The contest against Portland (32-40) is the start of a three-game road trip that includes a stop in Los Angeles to play the Lakers on Sunday and the Clippers on Monday.

The availability of Bulls star DeMar DeRozan is in question after he departed Wednesday's game in the third quarter with a right quadriceps strain. DeRozan missed all seven of his field-goal attempts while scoring a season-low four points.

Chicago center Nikola Vucevic wasn't overly concerned with DeRozan's injury.

"I think he's feeling OK. It's just something that kind of comes and goes," Vucevic told reporters. "He didn't want to force it too much."

Prior to Wednesday's injury, DeRozan was in the midst of a five-game hot streak in which he averaged 31.6 points, including a season-best 49 in a 139-131 double-overtime victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves last Friday.

Portland is opening a five-game homestand and it can't afford many more setbacks. The team is 3 1/2 games back of the final two Western Conference play-in spots.

The Trail Blazers snapped a six-game losing streak with Wednesday's 127-115 road victory over the Utah Jazz.

Portland star Damian Lillard recorded 30 points and matched a season-high with 12 assists as the Trail Blazers won for just the fourth time in the past 15 games.

"We have played well in parts of all these games, but in this league you can't have lows like we've had," Lillard said. "(Wednesday) night we played a complete game."

With starters Jerami Grant (quadriceps) and Anfernee Simons (foot) out of the lineup, first-round draft pick Shaedon Sharpe and undrafted second-year pro Trendon Watford picked up the slack.

Sharpe registered career highs of 24 points, nine rebounds and four steals, while Watford matched his season best of 21 points to give Portland some much-needed firepower.

The Trail Blazers expect Sharpe's performance to someday be the norm. The 19-year-old is raw and didn't play college ball -- sitting out last season at Kentucky -- before being the seventh overall pick of the 2022 draft.

"He was aggressive," Portland coach Chauncey Billups said of Sharpe. "He looked for his shots early and often. They left him open a few times and he took them and knocked them down. I didn't even care if he missed those shots. I just want him to be aggressive."

Big man Jusuf Nurkic added 20 points and is averaging 21.5 points over the past two games.

Host Chicago won the first meeting 129-121 on Feb. 4 when LaVine poured in 36 points. Lillard scored 40 for the Trail Blazers.

--Field Level Media

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