Trail Blazers-Bulls Preview
A favorable schedule has helped the Chicago Bulls to one of the NBA's best records since the All-Star break.
That recent success will be tested as the Bulls' schedule takes a tough turn beginning with Friday night's visit from the Portland Trail Blazers.
Chicago (30-27) has won five of six since the break and seven of nine since Feb. 6. None of those victories, however, came against a team that currently has a winning record.
Since his first All-Star appearance, point guard Derrick Rose has averaged 22.8 points and shot 54.3 in six games, but one of his teammates had an even better performance in Wednesday night's 120-110 victory over Indiana. Luol Deng had a season-high 31 points as Chicago recorded a season high-tying third straight home win.
Adding to that streak won't be easy as each of the Bulls' next six visitors currently has a winning record. After facing the Blazers (34-26), Chicago visits Indiana on Saturday night before hosting Atlanta, Memphis, Dallas and Utah in a four-game homestand to open March.
Trips to Orlando, Miami, Memphis and Dallas follow before a visit from Eastern Conference leader Cleveland.
"The schedule will get tough, but we're confident in the team that we have," Deng said. "When we play our best, we feel like we can play with anybody."
Chicago will get its first test against a Portland team that's opened a five-game road trip with a pair of victories after dropping eight of its previous 13 games overall.
"We showed that we're hungry and that we're not going to let this season slip away,'' coach Nate McMillan said after a 101-87 win at Toronto on Wednesday night. "I like the fight that we've had in these last two games."
Aiding McMillan is Brandon Roy's return to All-Star form since returning from a sprained right hamstring, which caused him to miss 14 of 15 games from Jan. 15-Feb. 10.
After scoring a combined 13 points in his first two games back, Roy has averaged 23.7 points and shot 52.2 percent over the past three. Point guard Andre Miller has also played 72 minutes without committing a turnover in the team's wins over New Jersey and Toronto earlier this week.
Roy scored 20 points and Miller added 18 with 10 assists against the Raptors.
The Blazers are searching for their sixth straight win over the Bulls and third in a row at the United Center, but they will bring in a much different team than the one that took a 122-98 home victory against Chicago on Nov. 23.
The Blazers tried to fill their hole in the middle by acquiring Marcus Camby from the Los Angeles Clippers, but Camby's status for Friday is unknown because of a sprained right ankle suffered Tuesday night against New Jersey.
The Bulls are also dealing with an ailing frontcourt player in Joakim Noah. After missing seven games with plantar fasciitis, he has a combined 12 points and six rebounds in 26 minutes over the past three contests.