Thunder-Bulls Preview

Oklahoma City Thunder Status Check:
Record: 39-12
Division: 9-2
Conference: 29-9
Home Record: 22-4
Last 10 Games: 7-3
Streak: Won 5
Last game: 102-93 win over the Lakers
PPG: 103.7 (1st)
Opponents PPG: 97.1 (18th)
Offensive Rating: 110.5 (1st)
Defensive Rating: 103.4 (12th)
Pace: 93.1 (5th)
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .524 (1st)
Turnover Percentage: .153 (30th)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: .724 (21st)
Offensive Rebound Percentage: .277 (14th)
Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt: .267 (1st)
Opp. eFG%: .468 (5th)
Opp. TO%: .130 (24th)
Opp. FT/FGA: .208 (14th)
Leading scorer: Kevin Durant (27.7)

Stats from Basketball-Reference

Oklahoma City Injury Report:
Daequan Cook: out 2-3 weeks (sprained MCL)
Eric Maynor: out for the season (knee surgery)

Overview:
The top two teams in the league face-off for what is sadly the only time the Bulls and Thunder will meet, unless both squads make it to the NBA Finals.

What’s even sadder is that the Bulls will be out Derrick Rose again. This is unfortunate not just for the Bulls, but for the fans. We are losing out on what would be one of the best games of the year. It’s still going to be fun, just not as fun as it could have been…

But enough whimpering, the star power is still in this game, and the Bulls are still a good team without Rose. Heck, they beat the Heat without their starting point guard already, so this one is still set up to be exciting.

Chicago currently has a two game lead on the Thunder in the standings, but Oklahoma City is rolling as of late, winning their last five. And those wins were against some of the top teams in the league. Over that five game win streak, the Thunder beat the Clippers by 23, the Heat by 16 and the Lakers by nine.

The Thunder went 11-5 in March though, their worst month of the season.

Oklahoma City is first in the league in offensive rating (110.5), as well as first in effective field goal percentage (.524). It doesn’t come as a surprise that the Thunder can score. They have some of the best shooters in the game on their team.

Russell Westbrook is averaging 27.4 points on 49.3 percent shooting over his last ten games. He’s scored more than 32 points in three of his last five games. He led the way with 36 points and six assists against the Lakers on Thursday. Westbrook is a handful himself, but Kevin Durant is the best scorer on the team.

KD, the MVP leader in Derrick Rose’s mind, is averaging 27.7 points per game, while shooting 50.1 percent. Durant has scored below 20 points just twice in his last 25 games (he scored 19 and 18 in those games, which were both against the Jazz). Durant went for 21 points, eleven rebounds and five assists against the Lakers.

And then there is James Harden—sixth man of the year contender and another great scorer. Harden is averaging 16.8 points on 52 percent shooting over his last ten games. He is coming off a poor, 3-11 shooting performance against the Lakers though.

It’s going to be strength against strength, as the Bulls rank second in defensive rating (99.0) and third in opponent eFG (.454). The Bulls have great defenders to match-up against these scorers. Luol Deng will harass Durant all day. Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson are good match-ups against anybody.

Kyle Korver will use his speed to keep up with whoever he is guarding and John Lucas III can use his size to body people. OK, those last two are liabilities.

The Thunder are worst in the league in turnover percentage though, at .153. The Bulls aren’t particularly good at forcing turnovers, ranking 25th in opponent turnover percentage (.129). Chicago’s defense relies more on forcing bad shots, than forcing turnovers. But with Westbrook, you sometimes don’t have to force him into anything, as he makes the bad decisions all by his lonesome.

The Bulls have been winning with their defense since Tom Thibodeau took over, and even without Rose they can slow opponents. During Rose’s current nine game absence opponents are averaging 86.7 points per game, which is lower than the Bulls season average of 88.5 points allowed per game. Chicago is 7-2 on their current Rose-less run.

The Bulls also have a chance on the glass. Oklahoma City is 21st in defensive rebounding percentage (.724). As you know, the Bulls are tops in the league in offensive rebounding percentage (.327). Chicago will need all the second-chance points (and points in general) if they want to stick with the high-scoring Thunder, and the offensive glass will be a big part of that.

The Bulls will need to watch Russell Westbrook attacking his offensive boards. Westbrook is leading all point guards in offensive rebounds per game (1.4).

And it’s not easy to get a win in Oklahoma City. The Thunder have the most wins at home, and the second best home record in the league (22-4), behind Miami. They score an average of 107.5 points per game at home, compared to just 99.8 on the road.

The Masked Man: Rip Hamilton tricked us all, when it was thought he was going to play against the Pistons. Apparently he was available, but Tom Thibodeau decided to not play him. I should have known I wasn’t going to see Rip on the floor. I will not be fooled again though, especially on April Fool’s Day.

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