Tonight, the Oklahoma City Thunder open an anticipated interconference series against the Chicago Bulls from the United Center.
Though teetering just above .500, Chicago boasts successive victories over the league's elite during a three-game undefeated declaration. Consequently, Oklahoma City will find a stout competitive task upon its Windy City arrival.
Amid his Bulls’ recent prosperity, Jimmy Butler's stellar play has placed the league on notice. Butler has averaged 38 ppg, 9.3 trb, and 6.3 apg while shooting 46/40/91 during Chicago's linear defeats of Charlotte, Cleveland, and Toronto.
Last season, the Bulls dominated a two-game set vs. Oklahoma City.
Although, this campaign Chicago ranks as the NBA's worst three-point shooting team; Butler did connect on 5-of-8 3PA while offering 24.5 ppg in a 2016 sweep of OKC.
Further, a main factor in Chicago’s current productive run is a dramatic uptick in 3PM to 38%. With this increase, it is only reasonable that success has abounded for the league's top rebounding (47.8), and sixth most effective defensive unit.
To remain competitive, Oklahoma City will need to bring sustained defensive intensity and gritty interior play into tonight's encounter.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Russell Westbrook did it again to help erase a three-game Thunder losing streak. As OKC topped Denver 121-106, Westbrook netted triple-double #17 of the season with 32 points, 17 rebounds, and 11 assists.
Following a 60-60 intermission gridlock, Oklahoma City's defense tightened, allowing the Nuggets just 14-of-46 FGM in the second half. Meanwhile, the Thunder put together a strong offensive output, outscoring its Northwest Division rival 61-46, as Westbrook exploded in the final frame.
To ensure a similar outcome vs. Chicago, OKC must prevail in the paint and gain an efficient superstar performance from Westbrook.
As noted, the Bulls have been a hot commodity of late. Also of note, Chicago's fortunes have been inexorably linked with All-Star Jimmy Butler's offensive masterstrokes.
Butler initially infused his team's winning ways via a classic 52-point, 12-rebound offering against Charlotte.
In the Bulls' latest competitive highlight, the 27-year-old swingman dropped 42 points, and secured ten rebounds while netting 5-of-10 3PA opposite mighty Toronto.
At the conclusion of a hard-fought 123-118 win over Toronto, the final boxscore displayed the statistical hegemony that affirms Chicago's status as a dangerous 19-18 collective.
The Bulls outrebounded the Raptors 60-41 (17-6 ORB) while converting 11-28 from three and 36-39 FTA. Most importantly, Chicago overwhelmed the Atlantic Division's finest with a 49-32 surge througout the contest's final 16 minutes.
To no one's surprise, Butler claimed 17 points during the fourth quarter and overtime of his team's statement win.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY
- Limit Chicago on the offensive glass
- Andre Roberson pesters Jimmy Butler
- Dominate the paint
- Make free throws
- Limit turnovers
- Make efficient use of the three-point line
Probable Starting Lineups and Injury Reports
The Chicago Bulls will be without the services of rookie Denzel Valentine (Ankle). Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Thunder has no injuries to report.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Domantas Sabonis
- Center: Steven Adams
- Point Guard: Michael Carter-Williams
- Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade
- Small Forward: Jimmy Butler
- Power Forward: Taj Gibson
- Center: Robin Lopez
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER +1.5
In light of Chicago’s latest accomplishments —combined with OKC having lost three-of-four— both the Vegas books and our partners at numberFire give the Bulls a slight edge ahead of tonight’s contest.
Following a creditable 8-4 start away from home, Oklahoma City has lost four-consecutive road games. The Thunder last won on the road Dec. 27 vs. Miami. Conversely, Chicago is 4-1 in its last five starts at the United Center. This season, the Bulls sport a 12-7 home record.
Tonight’s key matchup pits Andre Roberson vs. Jimmy Butler. For Oklahoma City to prevail on the road, it is imperative that Roberson stint Butler’s offensive firepower. Also, Roberson will need to remain in constant motion through cuts and screens as a part of Oklahoma City’s offensive sets.
Both the Oklahoma City Thunder (22-16) and Chicago Bulls (19-18) are #7 overall in their respective conferences.