The Portland Trail Blazers were expected to compete in 2013 thanks to an improved bench, but through 11 games it has been the starting lineup that has helped reel off eight straight wins for the 10-2 group. And leading the way has been fifth-year veteran Wesley Matthews, who is taking the league by storm from beyond the arc.
Matthews, a career 39.5 percent 3-point shooter through four seasons, has exploded early in the season, making 2.7 shots beyond the arc on nearly 53 percent shooting. The latter statistic is tied with Milwaukee's OJ Mayo for the best mark in the NBA for players who have attempted more than 2.5 3-pointers per game. He's also been a model of consistency, making at least one 3-pointer in each game, and at least three deep-balls in seven contests. He's part of the reason the Trail Blazers are fourth in the NBA in 3-point field-goal percentage and third in makes per game (9.8), behind only shot-happy Golden State (11.1) and the Lakers (10.2) entering Thursday's games.
Matthews also has been efficient on two-pointers, which combined with his 3-pointers give him a mark of 55.4 percent from the field, tied for 15th in the NBA and second among non-forwards and centers (Memphis' Tony Allen; 56.6 percent).
The Bulls will be without their Marquette graduate Jimmy Butler, but the former Golden Eagle Matthews will be an important player to shut down. He has made 22 3-pointers during the Blazers' eight-game win streak and averaged 15.3 points, and that includes a three-point stinker against the Pistons two weeks ago.
Matthews hasn't propelled the Blazers to the No. 2 seed in the West by himself, however. Reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard has continued to excel in his sophomore season, and power forward LaMarcus Aldridge is averaging a career-best 22.6 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
Lillard has dominated from beyond the arc, too, totaling 32 3-pointers in 11 games. That mark is best in the NBA after the Splash Brothers, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, who have made 38 and 32 3-pointers, respectively, this season.
There's really no way to become a "good" defensive team against 3-point field goals as advanced-stats guru Ken Pomeroy documented here. Simply put, a 3-point field goal is a low-percentage shot that a defense really can't control over the course of a game or season. Sure, it's better to get a hand up or contest altogether, but 3-point shooters are 3-point shooters.
A better measure is how many 3-point attempts a team allows. It's a toss-up as to whether the shots go in, but not allowing those attempts in the first place lessens the damage a team can do. And while the Bulls are fourth-worst in the NBA in 3-point field-goal percentage allowed (38.6 percent), teams have taken the seventh-fewest shots from beyond the arc (19.0 3-point attempts per game). What that means is the Bulls actually haven't been as poor guarding beyond the arc as raw numbers -- or the numbers people look at -- would suggest.
Still, it's something to keep an eye on. The Blazers are booming from beyond the arc and the Bulls must be prepared to guard against Matthews, Lillard and small forward Nicolas Batum. See if they can do that tonight on Comcast SportsNet. Stay up late and join us as we bring you Bulls Pregame Live, beginning at 9 p.m. Following the game, Mark Schanowski and Will Perdue break the game down and provide highlights on Bulls Postgame Live.