Tonight, the Bulls return to the United Center for one night before taking off on a three-game Western Conference road swing over Thanksgiving. This evening they meet up with the Portland Trail Blazers for the first time this season, however the two will meet again in four days out in Rip City.
Chicago hits the hardwood looking to feed on some momentum after notching a wild, 116-115, last-second road win over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday.
The Bulls furiously stampeded out of the gates, knocking down four of their first five 3-point attempts en route to a blistering 22 for 47 (46.7%) night from behind the arc. They were able to construct a comfortable 14-point lead late in the second quarter, but as has happened all too often of late, the offense stopped flowing and shots began to bounce off the rim one after another as Charlotte was able to get its act together and go on a 19-1 run, outscoring Chicago 25-13 in the third to take a seven-point lead into the final stanza.
Then with the Bulls down eight with just 48 seconds left to play, Zach LaVine led a furious Chicago rally, hitting a game-winning 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds on the clock. LaVine's triple was his 13th of the night and established a new franchise record and ended his evening with a career-best 49-points. The veteran guard shot 17 for 28 from the field overall, including 13 for 17 from distance.
Bulls rookie Coby White, who was playing in front of hundreds of family and friends from his nearby hometown of Goldsboro, NC, also posted a career-high with 28 points off the bench.
On the year, LaVine leads Chicago in scoring at 21.2 points per game. White ranks second at 13.9, while forward Lauri Markkanen (13.8) and center Wendell Carter Jr. (12.8) close out the top four.
Meanwhile, Portland comes to town hoping to snap a four-game losing skid that began a week ago today. The Trail Blazers have lost six of their last seven, 10 of their last 12 and check in at 5-12 on the season, second worst in the West.
All-Star Damian Lillard leads the team in scoring at 28.3 points and 7.2 assists per game. However, the high-powered guard has also been battling back issues on-and-off this season. In Portland's most recent game on Saturday, he scored 23 points but shot only 7 for 20 from the field.
Other injuries have also hurt Portland, especially down in the paint, as both center Jusuf Nurkic (broken leg) and power forward Zach Collins (dislocated left shoulder) have been sidelined for long stretches. Offseason pickup, Hassan Whiteside, an often intimidating 7-foot big man, was forced to sit out Saturday in Cleveland with a sore hip. Whiteside, however, is listed as probable for tonight, but only time will tell if he's truly healthy to take the floor come seven o'clock.
In order for the Bulls to continue riding the wave of momentum created in Charlotte over the weekend they're going to need to play fast and aggressively crash the boards at both ends of the floor from the opening tip and never let off the gas. A determined and tenacious rebounding effort — especially at the defensive end of the floor — would do wonders in igniting Chicago's running game.
The Bulls must also share the ball, making it jump from player-to-player and from side-to-side, and be quick when it comes to exploiting cracks in the defense. All five on the floor must also be eager and willing to take the action to the rim every time a path opens. The Blazers are vulnerable in the paint, and thus Chicago can't fail to take advantage, forcing Portland onto its heels at every opportunity.
On the defensive end of the floor, the Bulls need to keep the lines of communication open and aggressively defend the arc. The Blazers can score in a hurry from distance. Lillard and his backcourt running partner, CJ McCollum (22.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.9 apg) are more than capable of torching the twine and lighting up the scoreboard if given an opportunity, as are veteran forwards Rodney Hood and Carmelo Anthony, who'll be joining them in the starting lineup.
For Chicago to reach its potential they must come into every contest with a blue-collar mindset, aggressively battling on the boards while also hustling and fighting tooth-and-nail for every basket, rebound and loose ball.