Derrick Rose and Damian Lillard won't share the same floor tonight. But if the first nine games of the season are any indication, it may not be long before the young pair share the same rarefied air.
Rose (the league's best point guard) is out rehabbing a potentially season-ending injury. Lillard (the league's best rookie point) is one of the bright spots for Portland's season thus far, averaging 19 points and six assists but more importantly playing with a confidence that has teammates buying in.
"Took big shots, made big shots," said Portland All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge of Lillard, who poured in 16 of the Blazers' final 21 points on his way to a career night on Friday during a 119-117 OT thriller over Houston. And while Lillard has a long way to go before, say, ad campaigns are built around him not playing, he's off to a rather rosy start, leading all rookies in scoring, assists, steals and minutes.
Sure, Rose And Lillard may not be in the same arena tonight, but with one idle and the other rising, you can't blame Portland fans for hoping the duo will eventually be mentioned in the same sentence.
We're live at the Rose Garden, so click past the jump and follow along as I deftly describe all the action, on and off the floor.
A decent amount of applause as the Bulls took the floor pregame. Saw a lot of Jordan and Pippen jerseys among the fans. Sadly, I spotted no Bill Wennington jerseys.
Chicago (5-4)—F Luol Deng, F Carlos Boozer, C Joakim Noah, G Richard Hamilton, G Kirk Hinrich
Portland (4-5)—F Nicolas Batum, F LaMarcus Aldridge, C JJ Hickson, G Wesley Matthews, G Damian Lillard
10:50—The Blazers' early offensive game has plenty of elbow room. First it's Hickson draining a jumper from the left elbow, then on the next possession, Aldridge nails one from the right 'bow. Blazers lead 4-2.
9:27—Lillard nails a fadeaway jumper just inside the 3-point arch with Hinrich in his face. This will be an interesting matchup to watch—the crafty vet against the speedy rook. Blazers lead 8-6.
6:09—Chicago on a six-point run, culminating in a Noah dunk that's set up by Hickson trying to save a tipped rebound attempt. The behind-the-back save goes right to the ponytail-rocking Chicago center and Noah jams it home two-handed. Bulls shooting 66% in the early going, and they lead 16-11.
4:56—Contrast in styles: Aldridge flashes across the lane and hits a little running hook in the paint over Boozer. On the other end, Boozer puts his head down and takes it right to Aldridge's chest and the basket. Different styles, same results—two points each.
3:20—Batum leans in and hits a 3 from the left wing over Noah. His first bucket of the night after tying a career high on Friday with 35 points. Bulls lead 22-21.
2:38—Timeout on the floor. Both teams shooting well (Portland at 53%, Chicago 61%) but the Bulls are outscoring the Blazers 14-6 in the paint. During the timeout, the video screen showed Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale, obviously) is in the house.
1:28—Taj Gibson drives hard to the basket and Myers Leonard fouls him harder. A forearm across the face—did Leonard pick up that move from Luke Babbitt?
0:51—Leonard picks up his third foul in three minutes. Easy, big fella. Jared Jeffries will check in.
0:00—Deng drives to the hoop for an easy lay-in over Batum, who tried to draw the charge. With less than 10 seconds left, the Blazers' fail to get a shot off in their final possession. Hickson was out on the wing but was looking to pass as the clocked ticked down. Bulls lead, 30-23, and they're still shooting better than 60%. Another telling stat: They have 10 assists to Portland's two.
10:07—Blazers have come out with some energy and open the quarter with a six-point run. Matthews goes right at the Chicago defense and floats one in on Portland's first possession. Ronnie Price checks in for Lillard and after a fruitless possession for Chicago, Jeffries takes it straight to the hole for a bucket. Chicago again comes up empty, and then it's Aldridge, nailing a 20-foot jumper. Just like that, the lead is one—Chicago up 30-29.
7:26—Both sides are now struggling to find their shot amid some sloppy play and ratcheted defense. More loose balls in the last two minutes than the whole first quarter. Matthews comes off an Aldridge pick and hits a jumper, and we're tied at 32.
5:27—Price nails a wide-open 3 from the left wing—his first bucket of the game—to give the Blazers a short-lived lead. Why so brief? On the other end, Nate Robinson drains a 3 from the right wing, and Blazers coach Terry Stotts has seen enough of his tepid second-quarter defense. We're tied at 37.
3:59—Batum with a huge slam running down the right side after a nice one-handed bounce pass from Price. This, after Matthews steps up to the right elbow and drains a jumper he looks increasingly comfortable taking. Wes has seven points—all in this second quarter. Blazers lead 43-39, their biggest edge of the night.
2:32—Official timeout and Portland leads 45-41 after taking over the flow of the game this quarter. The Blazers are now shooting at a 54% clip, and have closed the points-in-the-paint edge a bit. Aldridge leads all scorers with 15 points.
1:30—Price is having himself a bit of a half (5 points, 3 assists) and looks comfortable out there with Lillard. He drives strong to the hole and hits a reverse layup, and Portland leads 49-41, the biggest lead of the night for either side.
0:00—Lillard flies right past Hinrich on his way to a reverse lay-up and a 51-43 halftime lead for Portland. Biggest roar of the night as the rookie point guard coolly leaves Hinrich looking like every bit the nine-year veteran. Great awareness of the game clock by the rookie, who has a total "NBD" face as he turns around to run back on D. Lillard has 11 points and if Derrick Rose is watching this from LA (where he's rehabbing), I'm betting he's impressed.
11:34—Lillard drives baseline on a mismatch with Noah and kicks it out to Batum for a wide-open 3. He drains it and Portland is out to a good start, up 54-43.
9:38—Batum drives and dishes to a slashing Matthews, who dunks it two-handed. After a Chicago bucket on the other end, Batum is back doing what he does best, spotting up and nailing a 3 to give Portland a 61-47 lead.
8:27—Lillard with a fall-away 3 from the left wing, and Portland leads by 15. The crowd just loves this kid.
6:57—Mathews with a steal and leads the break. Hickson calls for an alley-oop, but Wes finds Batum on the right wing. He drains his second straight 3, and Portland is up 67-53. Batum now with 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
3:02—Blazers and Bulls trade possessions but not too many buckets over the past four minutes. Chicago has picked it up and reversed what looked like it might have been a blowout, cutting the lead to single-digits behind Deng. He quietly has 14 points, 11 boards and six assists. Portland leads, 69-62 and it looks like Leonard and Jeffries will check in.
2:02—Bulls are on an 11-2 run. They're within five, 69-64. Lillard checks out and with Aldridge resting, Batum will likely be the focus of the offense to close out the quarter.
1:36—Right on cue, Batum flies to the rim with designs on a one-handed jam, but he's fouled. He converts both and Portland leads 71-64.
0:00—The Bulls have made a game of this one with an energetic third. They pull within five after Jimmy Butler follows a miss with a two-handed flush. Portland's offense is lacking with Aldridge and Lillard resting on the bench. Still, Portland holds a 73-68 lead as we head into the final period. Batum now leads Portland with 16 points and four other Blazers (Aldridge 15, Lillard 14, Matthews 11 and Hickson 10) are in double-figures.
10:50—Blazers' offense looking completely out of sorts. Batum with a pass to nobody in particular, and Gibson streaks to the hoop for a bucket and one. He hits his free throw, and we're tied at 73. Chicago on a 7-0 run.
9:24—Price with a nice teardrop fadeaway in the lane to put Portland up by a pair. Gibson and Aldridge are really battling down low, which is exactly what Chicago is looking for.
8:32—Batum with a turnaround 3-pointer—his fifth trey of the night—and he leads everyone with 19 points. Pavolovic with a steal on the other end and Portland pushes ahead to Price. He goes strong to the rim and scores (+1) and the Blazers lead 81-73. Price with 10 points and Portland leads by eight.
5:43—Matthews with a fadeaway 3 from the left wing with an assist to Price. It's the eighth triple of the night for Portland, and they lead 84-75. Lillard back in for the Blazers.
3:32—Jeffries called for a foul on a late whistle. Just when you thought the Bulls were out of this one, they've cut the lead to seven points. Blazers lead 88-81 and Chicago is doing a good job pressuring Lillard at midcourt, double-teaming the rookie and preventing him from setting anything up/slashing.
2:33—Matthews looking fired up after following a Batum miss with a quick rebound and score. On the other end, he comes up with a key block to prevent an easy Chicago bucket. Blazers lead 90-81 and the Blazers mascot is now rolling around a Gatling-like contraption that's pelting fans with mini-basketballs.
1:26—Matthews crushes a 3 from the left corner and that might do it. Blazers up 93-81 and Chicago calls a timeout. Will the fans start heading toward the exits? Yes, yes they will.
1:21—Robinson cold-bloodedly hits a 3 off the timeout. On the other end, Jeffries goes right at Noah and scores. Blazers up 95-84.
:38—After Robinson hits a pair of free throws, Matthews turns it over after Chicago traps him. The Bulls—not known for their long-distance shooting—might need to dial a few up here.
:23—Blazers with another turnover. Butler scores in transition and it's now a 95-90 game. Chicago on a six-point run and the Blazers need to work on their late-game inbound passing scheme.
:17—Jeffries hits one of two free throws, and Chicago takes a TO. Blazers lead 96-90, but the Bulls are holding out hope in the waning moments. On the other end, Robinson goes to the rack and is fouled. He damn near pulls his shorts off mid-court to adjust a thigh-wrap, and we very nearly had a NSFW moment. Robinson hits one of two, and Batum grabs the board. Blazers lead 96-91 and this one is all over but the shouting.
:16.4—Batum hits a pair of free throws and Chicago uses their final timeout. Portland leads 98-91, and the only thing left to be accomplished at this point is handing out Chalupas.
:13.9—Robinson hits a leaping fadeaway 3 in the right corner off the inbound. Bulls pull within four, 98-94, and Chicago is really pushing Portland to reach the magic number.
:13.0—Aldridge hits a pair of free throws and Portland leads 100-94. Fans rejoice at free grub.
FINAL: Portland wins 102-94 as Lillard finishes the game with an uncontested dunk after both teams stop playing. That ticks off the Bulls, and Robinson pulls Lillard aside to seemingly explain a bit of late-game etiquette to the rookie.
The Blazers still need to work on putting teams away, but it's a third straight win nonetheless for Portland. Batum and Matthews lead the way with 21 points apiece, while Aldridge adds 18 points and 13 rebounds and Lillard has 16. Price also has a nice night, finishing with 10 points and a team-high five assists.
For Chicago, Noah has a monster night with 16 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists, while Robinson leads their scoring with 18 points.
Portland returns to action on Wednesday, when they travel to Phoenix. They're back at home on Friday, hosting Minnesota.