- When: Thursday, 05 November 2015 at 8:00 PM EST
- Where: United Center, Chicago, IL
Four days ago the Oklahoma City Thunder were on top of the world. They were 3-0 and had the look of a team that was just chomping at the bit to show the league what they could do with a complete roster. Then came the Houston game, where the Thunder played a winless Rockets team that was desperate to notch one in the win column. The Thunder controlled the game for most of the first half, but faltered at the end due to turnovers and little production from the bench. Next game, against an undefeated Raptors team, a lot of those same issues crept up. 19 turnovers and no production from the bench, outside of Enes Kanter, led to the team not being able to put Toronto away. When the offense stagnated late in the fourth quarter, the team could do little to prevent the momentum the Raptors had already built.
The Thunder and Chicago Bulls split their season series last year, with each team winning on its home floor. In the first game, the Bulls needed an E'Twaun Moore three with two seconds left to win the game. In the second meeting, Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, and Kanter each posted double-doubles to lead the Thunder to victory.
The Bulls come into the game with a 3-2 record. Their last loss, in which the previously winless Hornets scored 130 in regulation, prompted Bulls guard Jimmy Butler to divulge the following observation, "We ain't been playing no defense. Other teams have just been missing shots to tell you the truth, to be honest. [Shoot] we score enough points, that's not the problem. But when you don't stop nobody, they put up 130 or whatever they did, we got to nip that in the bud now because that's not winning basketball. It will never be winning basketball here and it never has been winning basketball here. We've always prided ourself on playing hard and not being pretty. Tonight, we were pretty, we were soft. Got our asses whipped."
With the firing of Coach Tom Thibodeau, and the subsequent hiring of Fred Hoiberg this offseason, the Bulls have shifted their focus from mainly defense to more of a balanced attack, with a lot more of the attention paid to the offensive side of the court. To many of the players that have been in Thibodeau's system for most or all of their careers, this is an adjustment period for them.
Butler and the ever-recovering Derrick Rose man the backcourt, giving them one of the more athletic guard set ups in the league. Tony Snell has been inconsistent throughout the season. Up front, the combination of Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic gives the Bulls two extremely skilled big men who can both stretch the floor and get baskets near the rim. Off the bench, Joakim Noah, Aaron Brooks, Taj Gibson, and Doug McDermott have gotten the lion's share of the reserve minutes.
Probable Starting Lineups
- PG - Derrick Rose
- SG - Jimmy Butler
- SF - Tony Snell
- PF - Nikola Mirotic
- C - Pau Gasol
Oklahoma City Thunder
- PG - Russell Westbrook
- SG - Andre Roberson
- SF - Kevin Durant
- PF - Serge Ibaka
- C - Steven Adams
3 Things to Watch For
- Attacking the paint - Despite what Jimmy Butler thinks, the Bulls have actually been pretty good on defense this year. Their weak spot though is in the interior. Gasol and Mirotic are more finesse big men than powerful post players, and Noah and Gibson may be on the other side of their careers due to nagging injuries. Last season, in their second meeting, both Kanter and Adams had point/rebound double-doubles. Add to that Westbrook and Durant driving to the basket and you have a recipe for a lot of points in the paint.
- Dion Waiters - The second unit needs a wing scorer, but Dion Waiters, for the most part, has been content on facilitating and letting the game come to him this season. Last season, when the Thunder needed him to step up and be a scorer, he did. Albeit inefficiently, but he still did. This season, though, he seems to be more passive. That passivity is welcomed in games where Kanter is producing. But in the games where he is struggling, the Dion from last season needs to make his presence felt.
- Russell Westbrook vs. Derrick Rose - The NBA was forever robbed of annual Westbrook vs. Rose matchups by various injuries. The last time these two players met was nearly five years ago. Let that sink in for a minute. Two of the most athletic players the game has ever seen and we, as fans, have not been able to enjoy their matchups in nearly half a decade. The worst part is that due to the injuries, we may never truly see what this matchup would look like with both of the players in their primes.