2012-2013 Game 5 Preview: Thunder Provide First True Test for Bulls

As Hedo Turkoglu once said, "Ball." - Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE

The Bulls are 3-1, but that record can be very misleading. All four of the games were played against teams expected to sink deep into the lottery this year, making the Thunder this team's first true test.

2012-2013 NBA Season
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Oklahoma City Thunder (2-2)
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Chicago Bulls (3-1)
November 8th, 2012
The United Center, Chicago, Illinois
7:00 PM CST
Turner Network Television, WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1)
Enemy Blogs: Blog a Bull, By the Horns,
Previous Meetings: None
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Kirk Hinrich
Thabo Sefolosha SG Rip Hamilton
Kevin Durant SF Luol Deng
Serge Ibaka PF Carlos Boozer
Kendrick Perkins C Joakim Noah

The Bulls are 3-1, but that record can be very misleading. All four of the games were played against teams expected to sink deep into the lottery this year, making the Thunder this team's first true test.

However, these earlier games provide a nice window into how the Bulls have changed. Though the starting lineup has remained the same, the bench has gone through wholesale changes. Chicago had a mean bench squad last season, but they were close to hitting the hardcap, so they had to let players walk while they looked for cheaper options.

Statistically, the biggest change to the Bulls is that they've become much more focused on free throws. This year, they're second in the league in free throws attempted per game, while they were a mere 23rd last year. However, their rebounding has fallen sharply, as they gone from the leagues best to the league's 17th best. Unsurprisingly, they remain one of the league's best teams in terms of assists.

Their loss against the Gordon and Davisless Hornets is a perfect example of how the Bulls can flat out give away a game. They rely on getting out in transition and offensive boards to jump start their offense, so if they struggle in either area their offense can really suffer.

Then again, this team has had some quality nights, like in their blowout win against the Cavaliers. However, whether they win or lose seems to be entirely up to them. The Bulls never really run into any matchup problems, because they have a variety of different lineups that they can throw out there. But as a whole, the team is just really, really inconsistent. Sometimes Carlos Boozer will earn his max contract, sometimes he'll look listless and shoot under 30%. It's all just one big guessing game as to which team will show up.

Aside from the Rose injury, one of the Bulls' biggest stories going into the season this year was the emergence of Jimmy Butler, the 30th pick out of Marquette in 2011. He got some crunch time minutes during the Bulls Tuesday win against Orlando, because he was the only player who could guard J.J. Redick. His defense could prove to be invaluable for the Bulls moving forward, especially with Nate Robinson, Rip Hamilton, and Marco Bellinelli forming a trio of defensive liability in the Bulls' backcourt. I wouldn't be surprised to see him get some action against Kevin Martin tonight.

Regardless, if the Thunder can play like they did on Tuesday, tonight's game should be a win. They've got the defense inside to tango with Noah, Boozer, and Gibson, and the Bulls don't have a whole lot of perimeter defense to stop the three-headed monster of Durant, Westbrook, and Martin. Still, I could see the Bulls controlling the boards and getting easy steals on the Thunder's high pick and roll under the right circumstances.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 98, Chicago Bulls 91

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