19-13 Portland at 12-18 Chicago

Will the real Chicago please stand up? Are they the team that went 49-33 with half of a Ben Wallace? Or are they the team that started this season 8-17, struggled against everyone and quit on Scott Skiles? Recently, they have looked more like the team from last year.

One suspects this recent turnaround in which the Bulls have gone from hapless to dangerous has a lot to do with the change in coaching. Ironically, Bulls (interim) coach Boylan made a comment that dove-tails nicely with my own philosophy: "Sometimes you go the way the game is going,'' Boylan said."

That quote was in reference to the extended playing time he gave to Noah who responded with a career high 17 points in just 18 minutes. I take it to mean when he sees a line-up that is working, he is going to let them run for a while. That kind of coaching can lead to win streaks.

Chicago has made some changes that are working for them. Ben Gordon is able to dominate most benches as he has shown since being moved to Chicago's bench. Hinrich and Deng are starting to look like the players they were last year and even Wallace seems to have come out of his funk. Suddenly, this is a dangerous Chicago team that thinks they can play with anyone.

And they probably can. They have a deep, talented team that can play a variety of styles. And I am having second thoughts. My first thought was this was a should-win game for Portland. However, I did not realize how much they had improved since Skiles was released. This is the team Chicago thought they had.

Unlike Minnesota, in Chicago you really do have a team that is better than its record. They certainly have the talent to beat Portland in Chicago...the question is which team will want it more. Portland is wanting to prove their long winning streak was A) no fluke and B) not strictly fueled by being at home. They are coming off a road win, they have seen what a good team looks like when that team is struggling but at home (Utah), and they know what to expect.

This game is going to come down to execution. If former Bull LaMarcus Aldridge (okay, so for about 10 minutes on draft day...but it still amuses me to say that) and Brandon Roy can continue their strong play, a couple of the second tier guys...say, Outlaw and Jones...have solid games, this is a winnable game for Portland. On the other hand, if they come out shooting 39% again, this could be a loss by 10+ points.

Here is where I say something that hurts. In the Utah game, despite the records, I believed Portland was going into a building where they were playing a better team in an away game and should probably lose. I hate Utah and hate admitting they have a better team. But they do.

In Chicago, I actually think the teams are pretty close to even, no huge advantages either way. If the game is in Portland, I think Portland wins it. But since it is in Chicago I suspect the Bulls will pull it out, probably in the 4 - 8 point range. So my official prediction is a Bulls win...but I will not be shocked if Portland pulls out the minor upset.

No comments: