Game Preview #69: Bulls at Oklahoma City Thunder

[Note by your friendly BullsBlogger, 03/18/09 1:27 PM CDT : Thanks to wjb1942 for today's game preview. I'm going to be out of town through Saturday night, so play nice. Or don't play nice and at least flag eachother. -ed.]

Chicago Bulls (31-37, 10-26 road) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (19-48, 14-20 home), 7:00 p.m. start.

With the Bulls coming off a win over the defending champ Celtics, and visiting the team with the 5th worst record in the league, anyone who doesn't follow the team closely might make the mistake of assuming tonight's game will be an easy win for the Bulls.  Unfortunately, in this case the records are a bit deceiving.


As so depressingly put by our friendly BullsBlogger in last night's post,

But it was just another night where the Bulls shot well. They did get out and run (even off of opposing makes) more, and you can tell Miller and Salmons have played together before, but I didn't seem them suddenly develop an offensive scheme . . . .

But the Bulls, you can't really tell when they are 'clicking' or not, it's more of a function of the results. They looked good on offense because they were hitting shots, and have guys who can score one-on-one. The Bulls defense still stunk, though that's a bit more expected when being, ahem, unconventional.

I'm sure everyone here is sick of hearing this, but the Bulls still haven't won on the road since new rotation guys Brad Miller, John Salmons, and Tim Thomas joined the team, 7 road losses in a row.  The team's overall margin of victory over this stretch is -.77, an improvement over the season as a whole, but still on the wrong side of 0.  They are 6-0 at home over the same stretch, however, and 2 of the last 3 road losses were extremely close, with the Bulls coming up just short on a Dwyane Wade buzzer beater and a tough final :22 in Philly.  Maybe this means the Bulls are about ready to pull one off on the road?

Meanwhile, the Thunder have been playing well of late.  The OKC paper was kind enough to include this little blurb in the paper after the Thunder's big Monday win over the Spurs, saving me the trouble of figuring it out on my own:

The Thunder has struggled on the road but is 12-6 in the Ford Center since New Year’s Eve. Of the six losses, three were buzzer-beaters (Chris Paul and two by Carmelo Anthony). Another was a two-point loss to Houston. The other two were fourth-quarter heroics by MVP candidates Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant.

"This crowd is unbelievable,” said Kevin Durant. "During the fourth quarter, I was trying to talk to Thabo (Sefolosha), and he couldn’t hear me. That’s always a good sign.”

As I just learned from Welcome to Loud City, the OKC Thunder blog, a win tonight against the Bulls would give the Thunder their first ever season sweep over an opponent.  Since adding our friend Thabo to the lineup last month, the Thunder are playing .500 ball; however, with a -2.67 overall scoring margin.  Thabo is averaging 13.3 points on .478 shooting, along with 6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 2.7 steals in 38.1 minutes per game in March so far.  These are pretty close to his per minute numbers for the season, but he's a great fit on the Thunder team so is getting the PT he didn't in Chicago.  It will be interesting to see him in action against his old team.

In summary, the Thunder have developed into a very solid home team, and the Bulls suck on the road.  With the postseason rapidly approaching, and the Bulls looking more likely to stick around for the early festivities (even if only as first round fodder), any road win would be nice at this point.  Accuscore has the Bulls winning 54% of the game simulations, while has the Bulls losing by 1.  Aside from their records, the teams are actually a closer match statistically than I would have expected:  the big exception seems to be 3 point shooting, where the Bulls are among the league best and the Thunder toward the bottom.

Around the leauge, the 4 teams breathing down the Bulls' necks for that final playoff spot are all in action as well.  The Bucks (1/2 game back of the Bulls) host the Magic, the Bobcats (1 1/2 games back) host the Kings, and the Knicks (2 games back) host the Nets (2 1/2 games back).  If the Magic come to play, a Bulls win would give the team a bit more of a cushion for the stretch run.

And finally, a couple of fun stats for the game tonight:

Ben shoots best on 0 days rest.

Derrick is shooting free throws at 93% in March, after only 71% in February

Kirk scores more points (average) on Wednesday than any other day

John shoots the 3 best and scores more (average) on Wednesdays

The Bulls are now 2-0 when Tyrus shoots 10-13 from the free throw line.

Tim has made 6 of 10 3-pointers over the last 3 games (try to ignore the fact that this means he has shot 3 for 11 inside the arc!)

Joakim shoots free throws best on Wednesdays

Brad scores more points (average) on Wednesdays, and shoots best on 0 days rest

With all that, how can the Bulls fail?  (Wait, don't answer that!)

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