Although a lot has changed since last season, one thing seems to have remained the same: the Bulls don’t like to lose twice in a row. After falling to the Hornets in an ugly defeat, Chicago bounced back and took care of the Magic.
Orlando was previously undefeated, and had scored 115 and 102 points in its first two games. So the Bulls strong defense is another thing that hasn’t changed. The Magic were the first team to score more than 90 against Chicago in this young season, but the Bulls offense did just enough to finish the job. Defense has always been the focus since Tom Thibodeau took over as coach, but it’s going to be more important this season than it has; at least until Derrick Rose returns (if he does come back this year).
But tonight will be a real test for the Bulls, as the defending Western Conference champs visit the United Center.
This will be the first look that Chicago gets at the Thunder with Kevin Martin. The two teams played in late October in the preseason, but that was before the James Harden deal went down (imagine having too many prolific scorers). And actually the Bulls were all over Harden in that game, limiting him to 13 points on 2-17 shooting. Serge Ibaka picked up the scoring though, dropping 24 (10-17 from the field). Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook did not play, so it may not the best representation of tonight’s game.
Kevin Martin, who replaced James Harden, is averaging 19.3 points per game.
Oklahoma City is coming off a win over Toronto, in which it got relatively quiet games from its two stars. Westbrook scored 19 points on 5-12 shooting and Durant added 15 points on 4-11 from the field. New-guy Kevin Martin scored 15 off the bench.
When you think of the Thunder, you usually think high scoring, with Durant, Westbrook and now Martin. But they are only 13th so far in offensive rating (104.3). They finished second last season in that category. They’ve picked it up on defense though. Right now they are 5th in defensive rating (98.2), after finishing eleventh a season ago. The Bulls are first in defensive rating (95.3) thus far, but haven’t really been tested with a high-scoring offensive opponent yet.
The Thunder are, by far, the toughest test the Bulls have had in the early going. And that is specifically true for Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng. Westbrook and Durant are both averaging 20.8 points per game.
Hinrich has done well on the defensive side of the ball. Isaiah Thomas (3-8 from the field), Kyrie Irving (6-15) and Greivis Vasquez (6-18) all struggled against him (E’Twaun Moore did go 7-13 against Kirk on Tuesday). Kyrie will be the only guy close to Westbrook’s talent that he has faced, but Russ creates so many unique challenges. Hinrich is shooting just 33.3 percent from the field, so continued solid defense is important.
The same can be said of Deng. Although Deng is shooting 44.2 percent from the field, that would still be the third worst field goal percentage of his career. It is an improvement over last season’s 41.2 percent, though, which was the lowest of his eight full seasons. He is putting in a career best defensive rating of 98.
In their careers, Durant has averaged 25.7 points on 47.5 percent shooting and 7.0 rebounds against Lu. Deng scored just eight points (30.8 percent shooting) the last time the Bulls and Thunder met in April, while KD recorded a double-double with 26 points (68.8 percent) and ten boards.
That game was an unpleasant loss for the Bulls. Without Derrick Rose, they shot just 33.3 percent from the field in a 14 point loss. Kevin Durant’s offensive rating in that game was an absurd 142. A much better defensive effort will be expected, and needed for this one to stay competitive.
Early season stat that could be concerning: Something that really worries me is the Bulls three point shooting. It was obviously going to take a hit with Kyle Korver leaving. But the Bulls really don’t have anybody that can hit a big three now. Deng is 1-11 from deep this year, Marco Belinelli, the guy who was supposed to help “replace” Korver, is 3-8. Rip Hamilton is 0-3 and Nate Robinson is 4-11. Even Joakim Noah is 0-1 (and hopefully he never takes another three again, even if it is for Big Macs).
Obviously four games is very early, but 1-11 from Lu is dreadful. He shot 36.7 percent from three last season. It’s impossible to know if something is wrong, but it is fair to ask if the wrist is bothering him more this season, after a shortened year and then playing in the Olympics. I can guarantee it isn’t helping.
And now the ESPN comments section “Comment of the Night” from erivera723:“Mr Snuggles believes Bulls will win.” Well if Mr. Snuggles says it, it must be true. Congrats Bulls.