Bulls vs. Thunder game preview: Oscar night and the stars are out (for one team)

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[Thanks to THEKILLERWHALE for today's game preview. There are still some openings left if you're interested. And if you're interested in going to the actual games, use our partners if you want Chicago Bulls Tickets. And sorry about the headline -yfbb]

Alright gang, the Bulls are playing the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Chesapeake arena tonight at 8:30pm central time. The Thunder won the last outing 97-91 but have been playing poorly as of late, dropping three straight (including a painful losses to Miami and Houston) before righting the ship with a win over Minnesota. The main culprit has been weak defense and it is my hope that the Bulls can take advantage of these shortcomings and win the day. On to the matchups!

Point Guard: Nate Robinson vs. Russel Westbrook.

Per KC Johnson, Kirk has fallen back down the well.

You know when you are playing pickup basketball and there is a really huge defensive mismatch? As a result, you force passes into the post or, perhaps the player with the physical advantage tries too hard to overpower his opponent and commits a series a offensive fouls. Thus, this seemingly huge advantage turns into a disadvantage, swaying the outcome of the game and... er...that's all I got.

Advantage: Thunder.

Shooting Guard: Thabo Sefolosha vs. Rip Hamilton.

I'm getting too old for this s#*t.

Advantage: Even.

Small Forward: Luol Deng vs. Kevin Durant.

What can be said about Kevin Durant that has not been said? He is the most fluid scorer I have ever seen. That said, he is at best a passable defender. Lu lit him up for 27 points on 21 shots in their last meeting (I will not mention KD's stat line as the best that you can really hope to do is limit him to sub-50% shooting). However, as was detailed in Jay's post, Lu has taken a step back offensively since his hamstring injury. He is still an excellent defender, although I was struck during the Heat game that he plays defense like a guy who knows that he will be in the game for 43 minutes. This is the eye test, but second efforts and intense pressure are not as consistent as was typical for Lu during his breakout 2010-2011 season. If there are any stats backing this up I would be pleased to see them.

Advantage: Thunder.

Power Forward: Carlos Boozer vs. Serge Ibaka.

Much hay was made of Serge Ibaka's improved mid-range jump-shot at the start of the season. Indeed, the Congolese big man was shooting an astonishing 71% from the 16-23 foot range through the month of November. This figure has dropped to 50% in recent months but he is still a very reasonable 4th option on a championship team. The golden days of the Boozisance are long behind us with the Booz cruise averaging 14-8 over the past 10 games on 45% shooting. His defensive mobility is still painful but I think that may help in this game since, much in the manner that the best place to steer when there is a Nascar accident is directly at the accident, it may actually be advantageous for big men to stand perfectly still as Westbrook drives to the rim and let him come to you (jeez we are screwed). In our last outing Booz put up a 9-11 stat line (coincidence?) but we could really use some more scoring out of him if we are to get out of this one with the W.

Advantage: Even.

Center: Joakim Noah vs. Kendrick Perkins.

One way to gauge Noah's value is to imagine how good other teams would be with him in their lineup. The Heat would truly be the juggernaut that everyone predicted as his passing skills and defense would complement LeBron perfectly. The Thunder too would stand an excellent chance of taking down the Heat if they had a defender as mobile as Jo. Perkins is tough but slow and a non-factor on offense.

Advantage: Bulls.

Keys to the game:

48 minutes: The Bulls do not have to win every quarter to win the game, but there cannot be entire quarters where they look like a poorly assembled pickup team at the YMCA. The 2nd quarter against the Heat has been burned into my brain for life and it is my sincere hope that we never again see the mighty Chicago Bulls play so poorly.

Hold the Thunder to 50% shooting: Easier said than done with Kevin Durant on the team, but, as KC pointed out:

In last 8 gms, Bulls allowed Heat (.507), Spurs (.520), Nuggets (.581), Pacers (.527) to shoot higher than 50 pct. Thunder rank 3rd at .483.

A lot of this is on Lu stepping up the defensive pressure and forcing Durant to work hard for all of his points.

Control the paint: Westbrook will be looking to exploit his physical advantage over Nate but this may be mitigated by solid interior defense. We can also kill these jokers on rebounding and we will need every advantage that we can get.

Contain Ronnie Brewer: The premier jumpshooter of his generation. We can only hope to slow him down.

Prediction: Bulls 101 - Thunder 97. The Bulls will limit the Thunder's offensive production through tough, team defense and exploit OKC's lackadaisical defense with solid contributions from several players.

Check out our brothers-in-arms at Welcome to Loud City, along with their incredible photo-shop gallery (they are true artists over there).

The game airs on ESPN at 8:30pm central.

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