Start time - 7:00 p.m. (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
The Thunder finally return home and play the Chicago Bulls in tonight’s game. Oklahoma City’s four game road trip was mixed in terms of results. We saw the Thunder lose all four games but there were good performances against Cleveland and Dallas. The issue for the Thunder is the same issue which has plagued the team all season long, consistency.
Oklahoma City have been able to put together competitive spells during games but that level of play has not been sustained over an extended period of time. Outside of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the whole roster has been patchy in terms of form.
At the moment, Oklahoma City are struggling at the start of games. In the last four contests, the Thunder have been outscored in the first quarter every single time. It is not as if the Thunder are keeping the game relatively close either; the average point deficit after the end of the first stanza over the last four games is 9.5 points.
Oklahoma City get down early in games and spend the rest of the contest fighting their way back. I admire the grit shown by the players but it is not a positive trait. Winning teams control a lead and manage a game from wire to wire; they do not need to constantly firefight against huge leads.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been the one defining constant for the Thunder since the turn of the year. Gilgeous-Alexander’s scoring and playmaking has been there for the Thunder every single night. He is averaging 23 points, 5 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game in month of January.
SGA has led the way for the Thunder and is making a serious case for the All-Star game. Gilgeous-Alexander was overlooked last season in favour of Mike Conley and Devin Booker. It does not seem as if Shai is willing to allow this to happen again. He is doing what an All-Star does by maximising his play on a nightly basis even when he has a bad shooting night.
Gilgeous-Alexander’s shooting has been rough this season but he has not failed to make an impact. When his shot is not falling, SGA will use his sharp passing to scythe through opposing defenses and get his teammates easy buckets.
The Chicago Bulls boast a player who was also overlooked last season, DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan was simply fantastic for the Spurs last season and yet he was ignored. A player who averaged 21 points and 7 assists per game on 59% TS was not even considered. It was a laughable decision at the time and DeRozan has proven his brilliance time and time again this season.
DeMar joined Billy Donovan in Chicago in a move which many questioned. Nobody could quite understand the fit between LaVine, DeRozan and Vucevic. That combination has just overwhelmed teams with offensive firepower and shot creation. Chicago can get good looks in every zone of the floor with any one of their core three guys.
In the last few days, the Bulls have lost two of their strongest perimeter defenders. Lonzo Ball tore his meniscus and has recently underwent surgery; he will not return this season. Alex Caruso was crashed into by Grayson Allen on Saturday night and that collision fractured his wrist.
The loss of Caruso and Ball will make it significantly harder for Billy Donovan’s men to defend the rim. Chicago’s approach on defense relies on relentless, hounding pressure to be applied by Ball and Caruso in order to compensate for the Bulls’ porous interior.
Chicago are one of the best sides in the Eastern Conference but they are a weakened team at the moment due to injuries. It is the perfect time for the Thunder to take advantage and steal a win for the first time in 10 days.