Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was able to confirm that after watching Aldridge score 26 points and grab 16 rebounds in a 100-85 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday after he missed seven games with a lower back contusion. The Trail Blazers were 3-4 in Aldridge’s absence.
The Bulls get Aldridge and the Trail Blazers on Friday.
“Aldridge played last night, so they’re back to how they normally play,” Thibodeau said after his team’s shootaround at the United Center on Friday. “They’re a very hard team to guard. Offensively, they have a lot of weapons. They play together. They share the ball. They can really shoot. You have to challenge shots and finish your defense.
“[Aldridge] looked great. His skill set is so unique. He’s a hard guy because of where he catches the ball and his release is so high. Then you throw [Damian] Lillard and Mo Williams out there and Wes Matthews and [Nicolas] Batum and [Robin] Lopez is great at doing his job. That was a huge pickup for them. [Thomas] Robinson really runs the floor. They have a lot of weapons.”
The responsibility of guarding Aldridge will likely fall mostly on Bulls center Joakim Noah on Friday. The Bulls limited Aldridge to 12 points on 4-of-20 shooting and six rebounds when the teams last met on Nov. 22. The Trail Blazers won that game 98-95 in Portland.
“He’s a great player,” Noah said of Aldridge. “He definitely changes everything when he’s on the court for them. Just his ability to shoot the ball, score in the paint. He’s probably the best offensive big in the league, so he presents a lot of challenges. … Yeah, it’s definitely going to take a team effort, and we’ve got to do our best to try and slow him down.”
The Bulls can clinch a playoff spot with a win or a New York Knicks’ loss on Friday. The Knicks are on the road against the Phoenix Suns.
The Bulls haven’t played since defeating the Indiana Pacers on Monday. Thibodeau thought the Bulls were able to utilize the three-day span between games.
“You have to maximize the time you do have,” Thibodeau said. “We had a stretch where we had a lot of games. I believe it was 18 in 31 days. Then you get a break and it gives you a chance to practice and clean things up. Hopefully, we took advantage of that time where we got quality practices in and clean some areas up that we needed to work on.”