Thunder vs. Bulls: East Meets West In a Historic Showdown (2011-2012 Game 52 Preview)

Records: The Oklahoma City Thunder (39-12) vs. The Chicago Bulls (42-11)

Time: 12:00 PM Central Daylight Time

Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

TV: American Broadcasting Corporation (KOCO 5) ONLY

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), WMVP ESPN 1000

Enemy Blog(s): Blog a Bull, By the Horns, Pippin Ain't Easy, Bullish Thoughts, Chicago Bulls Confidential

Previous Meeting(s): None.

GET PSYCHED!

The Chicago Bulls are back on top of the NBA, leading the Eastern Conference. In a lockout-shortened season, they appear to be on the Championship track that was first set to them by Michael Jordan. But from out West, a new challenger arises. The brand new team from Oklahoma City, and their young star, Zebulun Benbrook, has risen from obscurity to take on the Bulls in the NBA Finals....

"ZEB! Come inside and clean your room!"

Okay, maybe I got a bit too carried away in my childhood fantasy. But seriously, for a kid of the 90s from Oklahoma City, it doesn't get any better than this. Oklahoma City has it's own team? The Bulls are back on top of the NBA? It smells strongly of my thoughts during childhood, lived out through NBA Live and playground foolishness. And now....it's a reality.

Anyway, tonight's game will be one of the regular season's most watched games. The reasons are obvious. Not only do you have the Thunder and their incredibly young team of stars, but you have the Bulls, who were produced through a combination of the Derrick Rose phenomenon and some key NBA vets, like Carlos Boozer, Rip Hamilton, and Luol Deng.

Not intriguing enough for you? Well, try this on for size: The Thunder last played the Bulls on December 6th, 2010. Back in the days of Nenad Krstic, Jeff Green, and Keith Bogans. It seems like eons ago, doesn't it? It's crazy that two teams wouldn't meet over the course of almost 16 months, but such is the case that the lockout brings.

Even more intriguing is that this is the only matchup between the Bulls and Thunder this season. If the Thunder lose, their next chance to exact revenge will either be next season....or in the NBA Finals.

So calling this game a statement game would be a *insert word denoting "big" here* understatement.

Below: Injuries, Why the Bulls Have Won Without Rose, How the Game will Go, Prediction!

Unfortunately, today, the Bulls will be without the man that has made the current Bulls possible, Derrick Rose. He's not practiced, and has had issues with his groin. But, the next best thing, Rip Hamilton, is scheduled to return to the lineup today after a left shoulder injury.

Does this make the game less intriguing? Maybe. But the Bulls still aren't to be toyed with. Without Rose and Hamilton, they've managed to defeat the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic, and Atlanta Hawks. In other words, they're still fully capable of beast mode.

Why? Well, first of all, forget Linsanity. Think, instead, of John Lucas III Madness! The former Thunder guard has stormed his way out of the D-League and onto the Chicago Bulls this season. He went off for 24 against the Heat, and scored 20 against the Magic. He could present a problem for Derek Fisher, who is really bad at guarding spot up shooters.

Secondly, C.J. Watson is darn solid. He's a spot up shooter much like John Lucas, but he can also drive the ball a bit better and run isolation plays. He's a good assist man when double-teamed and in transition, and he can defend pretty well.

Thirdly, the Bulls' defense is the second best in the NBA, next to that of the Philadelphia 76ers. It's not because they're able to look for steals and apply pressure, which the Thunder use as their calling card. Rather, they dominate by keeping the other team by avoiding fouls in the post, blocking shots, playing excellent man to man defense, and allowing very few offensive rebounds.

Thus, in order for the Thunder to win tonight, they'll have to find a way to overcome the Bulls offensively. Both of the teams that have managed to beat the Roseless Bulls have scored 100 or more, while the only team to lose while scoring over 100 (the Raptors) lost by only a point. In games like this, the Thunder's offense, when stagnating, is generally supplemented by three things: 1. Transition Points. 2. Wild Westbrook Drives. and 3. Long Range Bombs. This can bite us in the butt because the first option isn't always available, Westbrook is a turnover machine, and threes don't always fall.

So expect this to be a game of Thunder runs and Thunder droughts, with the Bulls scoring fairly consistently all the while. There will be 5 or 6 major lead changes throughout the game, each one more thrilling than the last. But the fact of the matter is, when things go into crunch time, one team has a player they can consistently rely upon to create for himself and score....for now, the other doesn't.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 104, Chicago Bulls 102

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