Dec 6, 2010; Chicago, IL, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (center) tries to hold onto the ball as he works between Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13), power forward Carlos Boozer (5) and shooting guard Kyle Korver (right) during the second quarter at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

Inside the Bulls-Eye: Chicago Bulls (42-11) at Oklahoma City Thunder (39-12)

Bulls at Thunder — Noon on ABC

It’s being billed and an NBA Finals preview, but it’s hardly going to be so outside of the names involved. With Derrick Rose sitting yet again, the matchup will only be a true preview if for some horrible reason Rose misses the postseason or the Finals.

But that being said, if you even doubt for a second that this matchup won’t be intense then you’re sorely mistaken.

The Thunder are rolling, beating the Heat in a Sunday game last week and owning the second best record in basketball. However, they don’t have things nearly as sewn up as Chicago does. The Spurs are 2 1/2 games behind Oklahoma City and the Thunder have yet to clinch.

Not that they are in any danger of falling from grace, but for a team that seems to be the best in the NBA, they — not unlike the Bulls — want the respect they deserve.

With Rose out, the dynamic of the game shifts tremendously but we’ve seen the Bulls have success without him against big name teams. The last meeting with the Heat for Chicago saw no Rose but a saw John Lucas III explode for 24 points and lead the way to victory. We’ve also seen this team without Rose struggle mightily. Take for instance games against the Blazers, Nuggets and Grizzlies, all of which were blowout losses, all of which featured no Rose.

Russel Westbrook and Kevin Durant are a deadly one-two combo that could bring a title to Oklahoma City.(Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE)

So the question still remains: which Bulls team will show up? It’s a nationally televised Sunday matinee, but they got destroyed by the Celtics in the very same slot without Rose before. Chicago also lost on Sunday against the Heat without Luol Deng and with Derrick Rose. Not that the day itself has any bearing on the outcome, but the pressures of the kind of coverage the game is going to get in addition to it being a matinee might have some psychological effects.

Chicago would like nothing more then to win on Sunday and beat the team that they feel is on the same level as themselves.

With Rose out we are being robbed of a chance to see a full-strength Bulls squad square off against a full-strength Thunder team. When the shortened schedule was announced, the thought of Rose vs. Westbrook and Deng vs. Durant peaked interest in many.

In a lot of ways, the Thunder are the Bulls of the West and vice versa. Both have young coaches, both have superstar MVP quality leaders and both are serious championship contenders. Both are leading their conferences, both have the bitter taste of Conference Final rejection and both have chips on their shoulders.

This isn’t going to be a rivalry like the Bulls and Heat.

There is no harsh animosity towards one another. It’s almost like a brother form another mother situation, there is a mutual respect for one another.

But even if there’s love in the air, losing to one another still hurts and both these teams split the last two seasons. This time there is one meeting and it could be a preview of at least four more we see this year. With to without Rose, Bulls fan, Thunder fan or not this game is a stop everything and watch type of event.

No matter the result it will live up to the hype.

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