DEERFIELD, Ill. — After surprisingly getting off to one of the hottest starts in the NBA, the Trail Blazers have cooled off in the second half of the season.
Some of Portland’s relative slide is related to the health woes of All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, one of the league’s few 20-and-10 players. Aldridge has missed Portland’s last seven contests with a back injury, but is slated to return Thursday night, when the Blazers take on Atlanta, meaning that the Bulls expect him to be available for Friday night’s game at the United Center.
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“He’s very difficult to guard because of his skill set. He can shoot the ball. He can post the ball. He runs the floor. He’s very good in the pick-and-roll. He has a great touch. He’s got a high release. It’s hard to get to his shot. He’s a very good passer so if you overcommit, he’s going to make plays. But we’re going to need our defense to be tied together because when we do come to help when the ball is shot, [Robin] Lopez is a big body that you’ve got to keep off the glass. You look at [Nicolas] Batum and Wes Matthews and Mo Williams, that’s a lot to deal with,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said, as his team had plenty of time to prepare for the matchup with a three-day break between home games.
“They’re a team that can really shoot the ball. With Aldridge being out, they’ve started [Dorell] Wright. Aldridge is scheduled to play tonight so we anticipate him being there. He’s a hard guy to guard because of all the different things he can do. His size, playing away from the basket or post, run the floor, great touch, high release. He puts a lot of pressure on you,” the coach went on to say.
One of the players who will likely be tasked with defending Aldridge, Bulls’ All-Star center Joakim Noah, concurred with his coach’s opinion.
“For a big, he’s probably the most polished big in the NBA in terms of scoring the ball. He can do a lot of things,” Noah said. “It’s going to take a team effort, just find a way. They play good basketball, especially when he’s in. He’s such a problem. He gets everybody else open shots. They’re a tough team.”
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Bulls sixth man Taj Gibson, who is also likely to have a shot at guarding the former Bulls draft pick—the Bulls selected Aldridge in 2006, trading him for Tyrus Thomas on draft day—about the Portland star:
“It’s another crazy matchup against a stretch kind of four that can do it all. We’re going to try to frustrate him and do a lot of different things to knock him off the block,” Gibson explained. “We can’t let him get going early. Once a guy like that gets going early he can have a big night and we have to shut him down early.”