Posted November 18, 2012 on AP on Fox
The Portland Trail Blazers were going through some shaky times the last time they were preparing to face the Chicago Bulls. New coach Terry Stotts seems to have a solid foundation in place now with rookie Damian Lillard playing alongside LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews. Portland goes for its first three-game winning streak since the start of last season on Sunday night when the visiting Bulls try to avoid their first set of back-to-back losses this season. With the Blazers in 12th place in the Western Conference at 20-23, the team fired coach Nate McMillan on March 15 and replaced him with interim coach Kaleb Canales. It was the same day Portland waived former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden and added Gerald Wallace, Jonny Flynn and the expiring contracts of Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams and Hasheem Thabeet via trades. The following day, the Blazers posted a 100-89 victory at Chicago, as Aldridge scored 21 points, Matthews added 18 and Batum finished with 15 against a Bulls team playing without former MVP Derrick Rose (strained groin). Portland (4-5) will again face Chicago (5-4) without Rose, who continues to rehab an ACL tear suffered last postseason. While the Bulls try to move on without their leading scorer, the Blazers have received a major boost from Lillard, the No. 6 overall pick. The rookie from Weber State is averaging 19.3 points and 6.4 assists after scoring a season-best 27 with five assists in 119-117 overtime win over Houston on Friday. "Took big shots, made big shots," Aldridge said of Lillard, who scored 16 of the team's final 21 points. Lillard is not alone. In the last two contests, Aldridge, Batum, Matthews and Lillard have combined for 180 of the team's 222 points and 19 of its 24 3-pointers to help Portland bounce back from a four-game skid. Friday marked the first time three Blazers scored 27 or more since Nov. 14, 1997, as Batum finished with a career high-tying 35 and Aldridge added 29. That does not bode well for a Bulls team that's surrendered 101 points or more in three consecutive games following Saturday's 101-80 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Chicago also has problems to fix on the offensive end after shooting 33.7 percent (30 for 89), including 2 for 14 from long range. The Bulls have a league-low 33 3s. "I think we took a couple of steps back tonight," said Joakim Noah, who followed up a 21-point outing in Wednesday's 112-106 OT win at Phoenix with four points on a career-worst 0-for-6 effort from the field. The Bulls also need more production from Luol Deng, who scored 14 points on Saturday in one his worst shooting nights of the season (5 for 16). Carlos Boozer, though, has come up big in the last two games, totaling 50 points and 26 rebounds. Boozer, who had 22 points and 14 rebounds in last season's loss to the Blazers, grabbed a career-best 23 boards in a 93-89 OT victory at Portland on Feb. 21, 2010, while with Utah. Aldridge, a Bulls first-round pick in 2006, is averaging 30.4 points and 8.4 rebounds in his last five games against the Bulls. The Blazers' big man had a career-best 42 points in Chicago's last visit to the Rose Garden, a 109-103 Portland win on Feb. 7, 2011. Portland has won four straight and 10 of 12 at home in this series.
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