Even without Derrick Rose, Chicago has defeated most of the quality teams in the NBA at least once per season. Their toughness, hustle, and defense will typically come together at least once, and the Bulls seem to get up for great opponents.
This season the Bulls record against the top teams?
The Thunder, Clippers, and Blazers have been perpetual thorns in the Bulls side. Chicago hasn't picked up on any wins with Rose out against any of the three in the past two seasons. They get a chance at redemption tonight. That said, the are reasons the Bulls struggle against these three teams.
Against the Clippers/Blazers, LaMarcus Aldridge/Blake Griffin attack their weakest player on defense for much of the game.
They don't have an answer for Kevin Durant. They seem to do well against clogging the lane against LeBron/Wade and can mug up the game every other contest or so in order to make them ineffective. However, against Durant, they can't stop him from getting open for a split second at the three point line.
What's worse is that the games largely against these teams haven't been close. Chicago's only played one close game against the Thunder without Rose in which OKC stormed back in the 4th quarter to take the win.
The good news for Chicago is that the Thunder are coming off a back to back, and Chicago plays at home tonight. Both things might give them a tiny bit of an edge given that they have a rest day.
The bad news is the Thunder are also coming off a loss to the Mavericks yesterday in which Russell Westbrook sat out to rest his knee due to the back to back. Westbrook will be back tonight, and the Thunder will be looking to get back on track.
How do you slow Kevin Durant?
I don't think the NBA has found an answer to this question yet, and despite the Bulls having one of the best defenses in the league again this season, I don't expect them to find much of an answer either. Their best bet is for Jimmy Butler to get into him. Play physical. Play Hinrich style defense where he grabs, pulls, and knocks around.
Simply hope to throw him off his game. The problem, of course, is that without Luol Deng, the Bulls really only have one guy to throw on Durant. If Butler gets in foul trouble, the backup plan is Tony Snell or Mike Dunleavy. Neither option is all that appealing.
The one advantage of not having Deng on the roster is that the Bulls offense will flow through other players. Deng became Chicago's "go to" player without Rose. A role he was ill suited for, especially when the athletic, lanky Durant was defending him. The Bulls offense now revolves around the system with more ball movement and action with Noah in the high post.
Perhaps attacking the Thunder in this way will yield better results for Chicago.
Looking for shooting
In order for the Bulls to pull off a win, they'll need to bring their great brand of defense, slow the non-Durant options down and try and hope to contain Westbrook/Durant, but what they'll really need is to score.
The Bulls, even in the best case scenario, aren't going to hold the Thunder to under 90 points. They're going to need to find their offense tonight. The Bulls are unlikely to match their shooting performance against the Rockets considering the Thunder won't play such lax perimeter defense, however, they'll need to find ways to get Augustin and Dunleavy some open looks.
They'll need to hope Kirk Hinrich's game remains on. Both taking and knocking down a reasonable number of threes tonight will be they key to having a decent offensive performance overall which is the bare minimum required to hope for a win.
The Bulls only have another four chances to make a statement this season. Tonight, twice against Indy, and once against Portland. Let's see if they can make one tonight.
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