Tonight, a stagnant Oklahoma City Thunder crew seeks renewed life vs. the visiting Chicago Bulls.
Minus Enes Kanter, and saddled with offensive burden, the Oklahoma City Thunder exited January on a dim note. The Thunder managed just 92.5 ppg while helping unsteady Cleveland and San Antonio regain even footing.
Throughout a revealing two-game slide, OKC netted an inefficient FG/3P% split of 36/24.
Where once victories seemed to find Oklahoma City by sheer resilience, the reshuffled Thunder must now discover untapped resources to remain as a competitive entity.
For this reason, expect Oklahoma City's season finale vs. Chicago to be a dog fight which bears little resemblance to an earlier 109-94 road blowout favoring Billy Donovan's men.
It is worth noting that Kanter offered a stout 20 point, 11 rebound, three assist effort during OKC's auspicious Jan 9. meeting with Chicago. Also, Jimmy Butler (Illness) was greatly hampered throughout that contest.
Meanwhile, the perimeter-challenged Bulls sit a game below .500, and rank last in each of the major three-point shooting categories.
However, blessed with a now presumably healthy superstar in Butler, and a yeoman's mentality toward rebounding and defense, Chicago remains an ever-present threat to any team.
This was evident during the Bulls' recent 121-108 suppression of the hard-charging Philadelphia 76ers.
Butler (28 points) led a well-balanced offensive march that included stellar 50/57/82% shooting. Chicago also netted thirteen more free-throws than Philadelphia. Quite simply, Fred Hoiberg’s crew utilized principled two-way execution to hand the Sixers a fifth loss in 16 games.
To further stack the deck against Oklahoma City, tonight's contest comes on the tail-end of a back-to-back set.
Undermanned, and carrying heavy legs, the Thunder will need to find a deep inner reserve to silence an echoing losing streak.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (28-21, #7 West) vs. CHICAGO BULLS (24-25, #7 East)
- Time: 9:30 PM ET
- Venue: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- TV: ESPN
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY
- Take a page from opposing teams, and ‘pack the paint’ vs. Chicago’s starters (make Chi. shoot from deep)
- Conversely, do not allow the Bulls’ bench (McDermott, Zipser, Mirotic etc.) to prosper from deep
- Andre Roberson must continually harass Jimmy Butler
- Mr. Westbrook probably needs an efficient triple-double
- Get physical on the interior to...
- Push the tempo (Chicago ranks #23 in pace)
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
In light of recent setbacks, the Thunder’s collective confidence is on a downward slope. However, nothing cures uncertainty like winning. To halt the rampant narratives surrounding this team’s offensive ineptitude minus Kanter, a win vs. Chicago is required.
Further, tonight’s contest versus a ‘non-elite’ Bulls squad will provide a fairly accurate litmus test to gauge the expectations currently associated with OKC basketball.
Chicago is riding the pre-season trajectory laid out for it by the game’s vast punditry. While the Bulls are a respectable team that has proven capable of winning on any given night, their perimeter shortcomings are painfully obvious.
Oklahoma City would do well to put the Bulls’ Achilles’ heel to the test early and often. Although, if Chicago musters even a creditable showing from deep, then things could get dicey at ‘The Peake.’
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS/INJURY REPORT
The Oklahoma City Thunder list Enes Kanter (Forearm) out indefinitely. Alex Abrines (back) is considered as day-to-day. The Chicago Bulls expect Taj Gibson (ankle) to play vs. the Thunder.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Domantas Sabonis
- Center: Steven Adams
- Point Guard: Jerian Grant
- Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade
- Small Forward: Jimmy Butler
- Power Forward: Taj Gibson/Portis
- Center: Robin Lopez
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER - 3.5
Both Vegas and the oddsmakers at numberFire list Oklahoma City as respectable favorites for tonight’s inter-conference encounter.
Oklahoma City ranks #18 in the NBA with a 104.1 offensive rating. Meanwhile, the Thunder’s defensive rating (104.2) is seventh. OKC’s net rating (-0.1) is good for 13th.
Against predominantly Eastern Conference competition, Chicago ranks 19th league-wide in offensive rating (103.9). The Bulls’ defensive rating (104.6) is tenth. Overall, Chicago’s net rating (-0.6) is 16th best.
Tonight’s key matchup pits Jimmy Butler (24.5 ppg, 6.6 reb, 4.7 apg, and +6 OBPM) against defensive standout Andre Roberson (1.1 spg, 0.9 bpg, +1.9 DBPM, -4.9 Def diff.)
If Roberson can contain Butler, the onus for Chicago’s perimeter firepower falls upon the 35-year-old shoulders of Dwyane Wade (non-rookie career low PER of 19.3). This would be an ideal scenario for OKC.
The Thunder begin a three-game homestand vs. Chicago and sport a record of 16-6 at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Chicago is 9-14 away from the United Center.
On an interesting side-note, brothers Jerian and Jerami Grant will face one another in this nationally-televised, late-evening showdown. Oklahoma City leads Chicago 1-0 in the teams’ two-game seasonal series.