Shorthanded Bulls seek defensive improvement vs. Blazers

Life without injured players Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso is proving to be a rough adjustment for the Chicago Bulls, who face the visiting Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.

The Bulls have struggled defensively without Ball and Caruso, who are both out for the next six to eight weeks. Ball had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee last week while Caruso is recovering from a fractured right wrist.

Chicago’s defensive woes came to the forefront again in a 131-122 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday.

DeMar DeRozan scored 32 points and Zach LaVine added 30, but the Bulls fell after allowing more than 130 points for the third time in the last 10 games.

«It didn’t matter what we were in, we couldn’t stop the ball,» LaVine said. «We have to figure out a way to keep teams from scoring so much. We had a good offensive game, we scored 120-some points. We gave up 130. It’s going to be hard to beat anyone that way. We’re supposed to win these games. We cannot keep letting these opportunities slip.»

The Bulls face another tough matchup against Portland, which is 5-2 on the road since beginning the season 2-13 away from home.

The Blazers snapped a two-game losing skid with a 125-110 win over the Houston Rockets on Friday.

Anfernee Simons scored 27 points in the victory while CJ McCollum had 26 and Jusuf Nurkic continued to impress with 25 points and 13 rebounds.

Nurkic is averaging 18 points and 13 rebounds in 14 games this month, including 11 double-doubles.

The Blazers have also received a boost from McCollum, who has averaged 20.6 points in seven games since returning from a collapsed lung.

McCollum is shooting 50 percent from the field in his last two games and made several key shots in the second half of the win over Houston.

«This is just who he is,» Portland coach Chauncey Billups said. «He’s just a special talent. He can just score the basketball from many, many different places on the floor. No moment is too big for CJ. I thought he was good defensively, too.»

McCollum is averaging 20 points in his last five games against the Bulls, who are looking to avenge a 112-107 loss to the Blazers on Nov. 17.

While Chicago is struggling on the defensive end, the team has plenty of scoring threats.

Nikola Vucevic had 18 points in Friday’s loss to San Antonio while Coby White broke out of a shooting slump with four 3-pointers and 18 points.

The bulk of the team’s offense, however, comes from LaVine and DeRozan. The two are both among the top seven in the Eastern Conference in scoring.

DeRozan has been selected as an All-Star Game starter for the third time in his career, and LaVine is expected to be named as a reserve this week.

Chicago ranks 11th in the league in scoring at 110.6 points per game, but the Bulls allowed San Antonio to shoot 52.6 percent in Friday’s loss.

«We didn’t do a great job helping, let them get an awful lot of open threes, let them get in rhythm,» admitted DeRozan. «We were so out of whack defensively and it showed. It’s on us, the leaders on this team, to set the tone. With (Ball and Caruso) out we’ve got to be able to step forward and bring that defensive intensity.»

–Field Level Media

About The Author