Portland provides a playoff test for Bulls

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- The Chicago Bulls want to use the final nine games of the regular season to test their playoff readiness and the ideal challenge awaits Friday.

The Portland Trail Blazers will be at the United Center and the game against the Western Conference's fifth best team figures to include a matchup with All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge.

The 6-11 power forward is expected to return to action Thursday night against the Atlanta Hawks after missing seven games with a back injury. It's possible the Blazers would hesitate to use him in back-to-back games so quickly, but the Bulls are preparing as if he will play.

"For a big, he's probably the most polished big in the NBA in terms of scoring the ball," said Joakim Noah, who figures to bear much of the responsibility of guarding Aldridge. "He can do a lot of things. It's going to take a team effort, just find a way. They play good basketball, especially when he's in. He's such a problem. He gets everybody else open shots. They're a tough team."

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has studied all the angles, and he knows that adding Aldridge back into the Trail Blazers mix will provide a major test. Like the Bulls, Portland also needs to get into a flow with playoff time right around the corner.

"He can shoot the ball, he can post the ball, he runs the floor, he's very good in the pick-and-roll, he has a great touch, he's got a high release," Thibideau said of Aldridge. "It's hard to get to his shot. He's a very good passer so if you overcommit, he's going to make plays. We're going to need our defense to be tied together because when we do come to help when the ball is shot, (Robin) Lopez is a big body that you've got to keep off the glass. You look at (Nicolas) Batum and Wes Matthews and Mo Williams, that's a lot to deal with."

Noah will need all the help he can get from guys like Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson.

"It's another crazy matchup against a stretch kind of four that can do it all," Gibson said. "We're going to try to frustrate him and do a lot of different things to knock him off the block. But we can't let him get going early. Once a guy like that gets going early he can have a big night, and we have to shut him down early."