When Derrick Rose was lost for the season in Chicago's first meeting with the Portland Trail Blazers four months ago, few likely would have pegged the Bulls to be in the position they're in.
Chicago will look to clinch a playoff berth Friday night with a win over the visiting Trail Blazers, who are hoping the return of LaMarcus Aldridge can spark a turnaround after their recent lull.
The Bulls suffered a 98-95 loss in Portland on Nov. 22 after squandering a 21-point lead. More devastating was the loss of Rose, who injured his right knee in the third quarter after losing his footing when trying to change direction. It was later revealed to be a torn meniscus, sidelining him for the season.
From there, Chicago lost 13 of its next 19 games. Besides no longer appearing to resemble a contender in the Eastern Conference, a ninth trip to the playoffs in 10 seasons also appeared in jeopardy.
But the Bulls (40-31) have won an East-best 28 games since Jan. 1, pulling even with Toronto for third following an 89-77 home victory over first-place Indiana on Monday.
"We feel like we can go at anybody, we can beat anybody, when we're hungry. Stay humble and keep grinding," said Joakim Noah, who had 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
Noah is averaging 7.4 assists in 13 games this month, and his 5.1 assists per game on the season are the most by a center since Vlade Divac averaged 5.3 for Sacramento in 2003-04. The Bulls are 10-3 when Noah has at least eight assists.
Chicago, averaging 11.3 turnovers during a 5-2 stretch, committed only 10 turnovers Monday and claimed a 46-42 rebounding advantage after being outrebounded 51-36 in a 91-79 loss at Indiana three nights earlier.
Taj Gibson scored 23 after going 1 for 6 with seven points in the previous matchup, while Kirk Hinrich was 7 of 13 for 18 points after averaging 6.8 and shooting 31.3 percent over his previous four.
Portland (46-27) snapped a three-game slide with Thursday's 100-85 win at Atlanta and is one game ahead of Golden State for fifth place in the West. Aldridge tallied 25 points and 16 rebounds after missing the previous seven games with a lower back contusion.
The Trail Blazers, scoring 106.8 points per game and shooting 44.8 percent on the season, had averaged 90.0 points on 38.5 percent shooting in their previous three contests.
"We're a whole different team with him," said Damian Lillard, who scored 21. "He's our best player. He brings balance to our team. We had an inside presence and we were able to play inside-out, like we have all year. I just think with him out there we just got more quality shots."
The Bulls have held their last seven opponents to an average of 87.7 points on 39.0 percent shooting.
Aldridge scored 12 on 4-of-20 shooting in the season's first meeting, though the Trail Blazers were 12 of 26 from 3-point range and got 28 points from Wesley Matthews. Aldridge had been averaging 28.3 points on 59.6 percent shooting in his previous seven matchups with the Bulls.
Chicago has lost 10 of 12 in the series, including four of six at home, though Portland is 2-7 over its last nine road games.