Almost 80 percent of the Chicago Bulls’ games were on national television last year. Not a surprise considering the Bulls had the league’s reigning MVP and had won the most games in the NBA in 2010-11. This year, less than 33 percent of Chicago’s games will be nationally televised, and that’s 100 percent due to the injury of Derrick Rose.
He continues to rehab in private and hasn’t been seen or heard much from since the season started – other than to tweet a picture of his newborn baby – and that’s the way the Bulls plan to keep it. Don’t even start asking the team about Rose’s return until February.
The Rose-less Bulls get the TNT spotlight this week as they host the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first game of the weekly doubleheader. It’s the Thunder’s only visit to the Windy City. These two met once in last season’s lockout-shortened season, with the Thunder winning 92-78 at home. For what it’s worth, the Bulls played without an injured Rose in that one.
Thunder at Bulls How the Teams Enter
This is the third game of a five-game homestand for Chicago before it heads out on its annual “Circus Trip.” The Bulls (3-1) bounced back from a Saturday loss to an Anthony Davis-less Hornets team with a 99-93 victory over the Orlando Magic on Tuesday. Luol Deng and Joakim Noah combined for 43 points to lead the way. Chicago still hasn’t lost consecutive regular-season games at the United Center since dropping five straight under ex-coach Vinny Del Negro in March 2010.
This will be OKC’s second road game of the season – it lost its opener at San Antonio. The Thunder (2-2) also bounced back from a loss Tuesday night, thumping Toronto 108-88 in easily the team’s best effort so far. Coach Scotty Brooks had blasted the Thunder’s defensive effort after a Sunday’s 104-95 defeat to Atlanta, and Oklahoma City responded by holding the Raptors to 35.7 percent shooting from the field. The Thunder had 10 steals, nine blocked shots and outrebounded the Raptors 46-37. It helped that arguably Toronto’s best player, point guard Kyle Lowry, left for good in the second quarter with a sprained ankle. No Thunder player was on the floor for at least 30 minutes or broke the 20-point barrier. It’s the first time that has happened for the team since New Year’s Eve 2011.
Thunder at Bulls Betting Story Lines
Even when Rose was healthy, the Bulls were a defensive team first and that couldn’t be more accurate this season. The Bulls have held their first four opponents to 93 points or fewer for only the second time in franchise history. The first was Michael Jordan’s final title team in 1997-98. Chicago is No. 2 in the NBA in scoring defense at 88.8 points per game.
Carlos Boozer is clearly never going to be the offensive force the Bulls were hoping for (16 combined points on 7-for-26 shooting the past two games), so Deng and Noah are going to have to carry the load most nights. Those two are each playing nearly 40 minutes a game. Noah might be the best center in the East with Dwight Howard gone (I don’t consider Chris Bosh a center) as Noah is averaging a team-leading 16.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.0 steals per game. Deng, meanwhile, has increased his scoring total in every game. Coach Tom Thibodeau’s “Bench Mob” is no longer, but he has been leaning heavily on point guard Nate Robinson in the fourth quarters of the past two games over starter Kirk Hinrich. Robinson, almost an afterthought addition this offseason, is averaging 12.3 points and 5.3 assists while shooting 51.2 percent from the field in a little over 23 minutes. Pretty much all of his numbers are better than Hinrich’s.
Meanwhile, could the Thunder actually turn former No. 2 overall pick Hasheem Thabeet from colossal bust to solid NBA contributor? The 7-foot-2 center had a career-high 10 points with five rebounds and two blocked shots against the Raptors. He was the first man off the bench. Thabeet was picked by the Grizzlies one spot ahead of former Thunder player James Harden in the 2009 draft. But the real sixth man for OKC remains Kevin Martin, and he has been good, averaging 19.3 points per game – Harden averaged 16.8 in winning last year’s Sixth Man of the Year award (to be fair, Harden is a way better ball-handler). Martin is also 22-for-23 from the line.
Kevin Durant, meanwhile, seems to want to become a better-rounded player this year, and it is affecting his scoring so far. He had just 15 points against the Raptors and has yet to score more than 23 in a game. Durant is turning the ball over too much, and OKC is 24th in the NBA in giving it away 17.5 times for a minus-4.5 differential.
Thunder at Bulls Betting Odds and Key Trends
Oklahoma City is a 1.5-point favorite with the total at 192.5 on BookMaker. The Thunder are 2-1-1 ATS this season and 1-3 “over/under”. The Bulls are 1-3 ATS (0-3 at home) and 2-2 over/under.
OKC is 7-3 ATS in their last 10 vs. Central Division teams. The Bulls are 1-6 ATS in their last seven games vs. Western Conference teams. The over is 13-3-1 in the Thunder’s past 17 games on one day of rest. The over is 5-0-1 in OKC’s past six after 100 points or more in its previous game. The under is 13-3 in Chicago’s past 16 games on one day of rest. It is 4-1 in Bulls’ past five vs. Western Conference teams. The under is 5-1 in the past six meetings.
NBA Picks: Thunder at Bulls Betting Predictions
Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook is dealing with a bit of a sore shoulder but will certainly play. Some might be surprised the Bulls are winning without Rose, but they have played four teams thus far that almost assuredly will miss the playoffs (Kings, Cavs, Hornets, Magic). The Thunder have played two likely playoff teams – Spurs and Hawks – and lost both. But they have the best two players on the floor in this one, so give the points and take the under.
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