What to Watch For: Bulls-Thunder


48 hours after getting ran out of the gym against the Charlotte Hornets, the Chicago Bulls will host a big-time match-up with the Oklahoma City Thunder on TNT’s second Thursday doubleheader of the season. Here’s a few things to watch for on Thursday night in Chicago.

On any given night in the NBA, great teams can have a bad night at the office. Tuesday night was worse than a bad night for the Chicago Bulls. Not only did they get housed by 25 points, they got stomped by a team in Charlotte plagued by injuries and won just 33 games last season (and was winless heading into Tuesday’s game).

But, it was just the fifth game of 82. The Bulls have 77 tries to get these two new systems down pact and their roster completely healthy for a playoff run. Thursday night will be a tough test as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and the Oklahoma City Thunder make their lone visit to United Center.

ALSO AT PIPPEN AIN’T EASY: NBA and adidas Unveil Christmas Day Uniforms

The Bulls (3-2) and the Thunder (3-2) will meet one more time after Thursday night. During the NBA’s slate of Christmas games, the Bulls will travel to Oklahoma City. As for Thursday, this early-season meeting is about one, potentially two title contenders searching for their identities.

Before Thursday’s showdown in Chicago, here’s a few things to keep your eyes on as the Bulls take on the high-powered Thunder.

What Bulls team is going to show up against OKC?

If Tuesday night is going to be a common sight for the Bulls, this season is going to be a long one. Did Charlotte make more than a fair share of shots? Absolutely. But, the Bulls laid down quickly in Charlotte. Right off the bat, the Hornets jumped out to a 17-point lead before the fans at Time Warner Cable Arena could find their seats.

More from Bulls News

For the Bulls to rebound in a big way on Thursday, the effort must be there, especially on the defensive end. All but three players on the Bulls roster (Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol) have a 100-plus defensive rating in the early going. If Gasol didn’t block six shots against a banged-up Cleveland roster in the opener, who knows where his numbers would be.

Butler’s been the most vocal about the lack of defense being played by the Bulls. “We’ve always prided ourself on playing hard and not being pretty. Tonight, we were pretty, we were soft. Got our asses whipped,” Butler said after Tuesday night’s no-show for the Bulls.

It won’t be an easy task with two of the top players in the world coming at you for 30-35 minutes on offense, along with one of the league’s most versatile big men in Ibaka.

Speaking of which, who is going to guard Kevin Durant?

The obvious answer for this question is Jimmy Butler. But, can the Bulls afford Butler going all out against the best pure scorer on the planet the whole game? Butler’s an intricate part of the Bulls on offense now. After last season, there’s no more sleeping on Butler’s offensive game. This is where guys like Taj Gibson and Tony Snell will enter the fray.

Nights like Thursday night are why the Bulls took a chance with Tony Snell and picked up his team option for next season. When he’s playing with confidence, Snell’s a solid defender at multiple positions and can knock down an outside shot or two. The Bulls are going to need him to possibly guard Durant and Russell Westbrook at times.

Will a Derrick Rose breakout game take place?

Everybody that watches the Bulls has been waiting for Derrick Rose to bust out of his poor performance in the early part of the season and have one of those throwback Rose games. Simply put, Rose has been atrocious to start the season.

It’s not completely Rose’s fault. It’s not easy missing all but one preseason game after getting surgery done near one of your eyeballs and having to adjust to a mask. Rose has played 30+ minutes in three of the five games this season, but he looks like a player who is still trying to find his legs and his role.

There are parts of Rose’s game that look good at times, but for him to really find a nice stride as the season moves forward, he has to take care of the basketball and attack the basket. (In terms of the latter, he’s done a nice job.)

Russell Westbrook is a friend and a training partner of Rose’s off the court. This could be a motivating factor — along with the recent rumors about him — for Rose to have a great game and contribute in a big way for the Bulls.

Other notes:

  • This will be the first time that Joakim Noah will play against his former college coach Billy Donovan. Together at the University of Florida, Noah and Donovan won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007.
  • Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg expects a completely different Bulls bunch on Thursday night.

Tip-off between the Bulls and Thunder is slated for 7:00 PM CT on TNT. The Bulls will roll out their same five of Rose, Butler, Snell, Nikola Mirotic and Gasol. Oklahoma City will stick with their starting five of D.J. Augustin, Westbrook, Durant, Ibaka and Enes Kanter.

Next: ESPN's Windhorst: Rose, Bulls breakup has begun

You can follow along with us at @BullsBeatBlog for Thursday night’s action.