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Bulls vs. Thunder preview and open thread: Chicago aims for 3rd straight win in Derrick Jones Jr.’s return

better beat Sam Presti’s JV squad

Chicago Bulls v Washington Wizards Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Saturday night, your Chicago Bulls hope to keep cooking as they host the lottery-bound Oklahoma City Thunder. Friday night, spurred by great offensive turns from five of their healthy (ish) top six players, the Bulls beat the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves 134-122 to claim their second consecutive victory and move to a 35-21 record in the crowded East.

With four key rotation players still sidelined (more on this in a bit) and no reinforcements arriving via trade, head coach Billy Donovan kept his rotation to just nine players. As a result, All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, center Nikola Vucevic and rookie guard Ayo Dosunmu all played 35 minutes or more.

LaVine played through pain against Minnesota, which would explain his awful showing through the game’s first half before he seemed to wake up for some thunderous dunks. He and starting forward Javonte Green are both questionable on Saturday, and it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if LaVine sat out. In legitimately surprising injury news, Derrick Jones Jr. will make his return to the lineup from his finger injury. This is way earlier than his initial timetable of 6-8 weeks, and he’ll likely be wearing a splint.

One might worry that Saturday’s contest, as the second night of a back-to-back for a shorthanded lineup, could prove to be a problem for the Bulls. Fortunately, the Thunder are also playing their second game in two nights. OKC got clobbered by a James Harden-free Philadelphia 76ers club, 100-87, as Joel Embiid nabbed 25 points, 19 boards and five blocks.

DeMarvelous has been on an unbelievable hot streak lately, riding high thanks to five straight 30+ point performances. Look for the Bulls to feed him plenty against Sam Presti’s tanking Thunder kiddies.

Even if both LaVine and Green don’t play, this should be a Bulls blowout on Neil Funk Night. The 17-38 Thunder are missing their best player and leading scorer, point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, sidelined with a right ankle sprain through the All-Star break. Two other role players are also unavailable for Oklahoma City. Impressive young wing Luguentz Dort, however, is ready to be a disruptive fly in the ointment for Chicago.

Injury Report: As mentioned, Zach LaVine and Javonte Green are questionable, with LaVine’s injury listed as “left knee injury management” and not anything to do with the back spasms he recently dealt with. Green is dealing with “right midfoot soreness”, presumably from a scary-looking landing on his emphatic final dunk against the Timberwolves on Friday. Nikola Vucevic is probable with a hip injury. Derrick Jones Jr. is now back, but the Bulls are still missing the usual crew of Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams.

The Thunder will hit the hardwood sans the aforementioned Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (ankle sprain), possible buyout candidate Mike Muscala (ankle injury) and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (foot fracture).

Game Time: 7 p.m. CT, NBC Sports Chicago