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Thunder vs Bulls preview: will Oklahoma City's Westbrook-ness and/or depth overwhelm Chicago?

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Westbrook and company should be too much for the paper thin Bulls to handle.

The return of our Sager
The return of our Sager
William Bennett Berry

For the second week in a row, the Thunder will play on the TNT broadcast, this time traveling to Chicago to finish off a back-to-back. They face a Bulls team battling for the 2nd or 3rd seed in the East without Derrick Rose yet again. OKC got their oft-beat-up point guard back last night against Philly, and Russell Westbrook didn’t play gingerly in the slightest (shocker!) despite having his cheek dent popped out a few days prior. The only disappointing part about Westbrook’s return was that the most highly anticipated facemask of the century somehow turned out both un-scary and un-cool. Oh yeah, giving up most of Isaiah Canaan’s eight billion threes was a little disappointing as well.

After surviving against the Lakers and Sixers, this opens up a string of three tough games for the Thunder (Bulls, Raptors, Clippers), with both New Orleans and Phoenix still nipping at their heels for the 8 seed. Can Dion Waiters step back up and keep the team on his shoulders until Kevin Durant returns? He’s averaging 20 and 10 on 60% shooting over his last 1 games, proving the haters way wrong. Or will a role player like Russell Westbrook need to do his job well (say, 40 points, 12 boards, and 11 assists) to give the team the edge?

The Bulls have been playing well, but they’re down Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson on top of Rose. Nikola Mirotic—probable with a dinged up shoulder—has been hot of late, and Aaron Brooks and Tony Snell have been aight as fill-in starters. But this is the kind of game that the Thunder’s depth should make a difference in. The Bulls are paper thin on the perimeter, where OKC is stacked.

Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah are nothing to mess with down low, and now would be a convenient time for Steven Adams to return to action. Enes Kanter has been okay one-on-one in the post so far, but Pau Gasol might help him regress back to the mean in a hurry if he gets stuck guarding the Spaniard for much of the night. Adams’ return might also be convenient for Scott Brooks, since the Bulls are one of a couple teams that actually call for max toughness in the paint. Deep down, Brooks surely wants a reason to start Adams and keep his pre-season starting five intact.

Offense hasn’t been an issue for the Thunder since The Trade, and with so many of Chicago’s defensive stoppers out of the lineup, it probably won’t be tonight. Tom Thibodeau could squeeze good defense out of a team of Vince Offers, though, and OKC is always capable of reverting to iso-ball that doesn’t result in an effective Russplosion. Serge Ibaka, the deep threat no one appreciates, could be huge; the Bulls have struggled sending one of the two towers chasing stretch-fours around the perimeter.

There will be good vibes in the building as Craig Sager makes his return to the sidelines; the Thunder will hope to keep all the good vibes going and stay winning at an .800 clip. Finally, how many consecutive triple doubles will it take for Westbrook to go from chasing the MVP front-runners to setting the pace? Let’s see if five does the trick.

Prediction: Oklahoma City 104 Chicago 98

2013-2014 NBA Season Game 62
34-27
(Won 2)
@
38-23
(Won 1)
March 5th, 2015
United Center, Chicago, IL
7:00 PM CDT
TV: TNT, TSN2
Radio: ESPN 1000, WWLS 98.1FM OKC
Enemy Blogs: Blog a Bull
Previous Meetings: N/A
Injury Report: Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson (Out), Steven Adams (Questionable), Nikola Mirotic (Probable)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Aaron Brooks
Andre Roberson SG Tony Snell
Kyle Singler SF Nikola Mirotic
Serge Ibaka PF Joakim Noah
Enes Kanter C Pau Gasol