Timberwolves-Bulls Preview

The Bulls were leading after three quarters against the Thunder, but they let the lead slip away. Kevin Durant took over for Oklahoma City and closed out the game. The Bulls had no one to answer Durant in crunch time. This isn’t a surprise with Derrick Rose on the bench.

Luol Deng did his best “closer” impersonation early in the fourth, but he couldn’t keep up with the scoring champ in clutch time. Lu finished 11-21 for 27 points and also started hitting from downtown. Going into the game against Oklahoma City, Deng was 1-11. Against the Thunder he hit 3-6 from three.

He couldn’t stop Durant when the Bulls really needed it though, who finished 11-19 for 24 points. Durant did have 6 turnovers, so Deng’s defense did something.

Hinrich once again played well on the defensive end, holding Russell Westbrook to 16 points on 7-22 shooting. Russ did have 12 assists, but you can’t put that on Hinrich if he is getting the ball out of Westbrook’s hands. But in all honesty it wasn’t “Good Westbrook” that showed up last night. He only had two turnovers, but was taking some pretty poor shots.

As a team, Oklahoma City shot 49.3 percent from the field, which is going to be tough to beat. Serge Ibaka, who seems to love playing against the Bulls, was 8-15 for 21 points, while also recording nine rebounds and four blocks.

For all the good Kirk did on defense, he didn’t add much on the other side of the ball. He scored 12 points on 12 shots and recorded just five assists. He only turned it over once though, which was the fewest for the Bulls’ starters.

But nothing could top Marco Belinelli’s night. He played six minutes and score two points, which came from free throws. Seems ho-hum. Well it is, until you see the he had a minus-18 plus/minus. In six minutes with Belinelli on the floor, the Bulls were outscored by 18 points. This flabbergasted me.

Plus/minus is a flawed stat. But it can still show a little bit about the game. Something that jumps out from this matchup was the benches. The Bulls second unit (six bench players got in the game) all recorded negative plus/minuses, led by the above mentioned Marco Belinelli and Taj Gibson (-12).

The Thunder bench (four players) all recorded positive plus/minuses, led by Nick Collison (+15). Oklahoma City’s bench is good, with Collison, Kevin Martin and Eric Maynor, but the Bulls’ second unit used to be something very special. On Thursday they got outplayed.

The Bulls lost a hard-fought one on Thursday. It should be easier tonight against the Timberwolves. Minnesota is still without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.

The Wolves are 4-1 without their two best players though, after winning on a last-second Chase Budinger lay-up to top the Pacers last night. Minnesota’s defense has been on point, allowing the opponent to score more than 86 points just twice so far (Brooklyn and Indiana both scored 96 against them, but the Wolves still took both games). The Bulls haven’t allowed less than 86 all year.

Part of the low scoring for the Wolves is pace (28th in the league), but their defense has been great as they are in the top ten in both opponent field goal percentage (.454, 4th) and defensive rating (99.9, 9th).

Both teams are missing their best scorers and playmakers (the Bulls best scorer and playmaker happens to be the same guy) and will have to rely on their defense to secure wins. Chicago is second in defensive rating, at 96.4.

Another way to get points is to crash the offensive glass, and Minnesota has been doing just that. The Timberwolves rank sixth in offensive rebounding percentage (.310). The Bulls have slipped in this category from last season as they are just 12th (.271). Last season the Bulls were first, at 32.6.

As much as I like to joke about Omer Asik, I can’t help but point out that part of the lowered percentage is missing Asik.

Houston was 14th (.275) last season in offensive rebounding percentage. This year, they are currently3rd (.329). Asik’s offensive rebound rate is 16.2 percent for Houston, up from 14.9 a year ago. That 16.2 offensive rebound rate puts Asik sixth in the league. Joakim Noah (12.7) is 14th on the list. Not only are the Bulls missing Omer’s defense, they are clearly missing his rebounding (it must be said, that some of these rebounds definitely resulted in turnovers or missed layups, but still it’s the opportunities created). Omer is second in total rebound percent (22.3).         Jo isn’t in the top 20.

The Bulls and Timberwolves played just once last season, a Bulls 111-100 win. Rose, Love and Rubio all played in that one, and both teams have gone through some changes in the offseason. Budinger, last night’s hero, is averaging 12.4 points per game and fellow new addition Andrei Kirilenko is putting in 11.2, while Nikola Pekovic is the Wolves’ leading scorer at 13.8 points per contest.

In addition to the two stars, Minnesota could be without JJ Barea (sprained foot) and Brandon Roy (knee) tonight.

“It’s OK,” forward Andrei Kirilenko said. “We’ll still keep winning. Injuries, that don’t matter. Winning is what matters.”

That goes for both teams.

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