On the surface, the Bulls have very little chance to win this game. Even without James Harden the top three scorers on the Thunder would be the #1 scorer if they were on the Chicago Bulls without Rose. Even with Rose the Thunder would be the favorites, without him the Bulls are set up for a complete dismantling tonight.
Yes, on paper, this lines up at a 20 point loss. The Bulls can't contain the Thunder offense and don't have the scorers to keep up. However, games aren't won on paper.
Last season I watched LeBron James humiliate John Lucas by leaping over him and dunking in a game only to see John Lucas come back and grow a pair of balls so big they scraped the United Center floor when he dismantled LeBron on three straight plays to lead the a Roseless Bulls team to victory over the Heat.
John Lucas's fadeaway over LeBron will go down as one of my favorite Bulls plays of all time. That game may have been a regular season game in what is now a throw away season but still created one of my favorite Bulls memories, and it happened because the Bulls went out and did something they had no business doing with one of the most unlikely players coming out and playing the superstar role.
Do the Bulls have that type of moment in store for tonight? Probably not. You don't get many of them, but I didn't expect it that night either. To see something truly great it helps if there are some long odds. Most of the time, your expectations will be dashed by half time, and I expect that tonight, but there's always a chance for a Nate Robinson moment.
Is it that hard to envision Nate Robinson having an on night and becoming an unstoppable force for 5 minutes at the end of the game? Is it hard to imagine him draining multiple threes or driving through the lane? No, honestly, it's not. We've already seen it happen. We know he has it in him. He has the confidence, he has the belief, and he has the skills at least once in three games.
It's likely that the Bulls get annihilated anyway, that they won't even stand a chance to keep it close enough to give Robinson (or some other unlikely hero) a chance to pull something amazing out at the end. However, the chance for something great is why we watch.
Find a way to score efficiently
The Bulls are living in the inefficient zone with their shots. They're taking an absolute crapload of the least efficient shots in the game; mid range jumpers. Chicago needs to find a way to get their three point attempts and percentage up. Luol Deng in particular needs to find his stroke from beyond the arc.
When the Bulls can start stretching the floor out to the three point line, they'll find more opportunities inside the arc as well, however, opponents have little need to honor any Bulls player beyond the arc, because no one on the team has shown they can beat you from out there and almost everyone is now passing up open threes as their confidence has been drained.
It's going to take a village
The Thunder have three players that can beat their perimeter defenders off the dribble and get into the paint, so Taj and Joakim will need to defend everyone on the court while the perimeter defenders will need to funnel players to an expected location to improve the ease of rotations.
No one stops Kevin Durant, so the Bulls will need to focus on taking the ball out of his hands and simply making his shots more difficult or taken from less efficient places and can hope Russell Westbrook has one of those self destructive nights where he can't hit the broad side of the barn but doesn't stop shooting and throws the ball away repeatedly to ice the cake.
Need more second chances
One of the Bulls expected strengths is in the rebounding department, but the Bulls haven't had a game where they've truly capitalized on the offensive glass and presently are performing slightly under the league average in terms of offensive rebound rate.
Chicago has the players to make an impact on the offensive glass and will need the easy points in order to compete in this game.
This game doesn't look like a victory. It looks like a national TV drubbing. However, they don't play games on paper, they play them on the basketball court, and anything can happen on any given night.