Thursday, November 8, 2012

Game #5 Preview, Bulls-Thunder: Block Party

File photo collection: still minimal, lame. 

Chicago Bulls (3-1) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (2-2)
The Opponent

The Bulls got back on the winning track Tuesday night, dispatching a surprisingly solid (so far) Magic team at home. The Bulls rode a second half 15-2 run to a victory, and the Bulls were able to keep the Magic off the offensive boards and J.J. Redick away from another lights out night from beyond the arc. 

On Thursday, the Bulls face a far different challenge in a reformulated Thunder team, of course featuring two of the league's most dynamic scores in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Even post-Harden, the Thunder still have two guys that can drop 30+ on you in the same game, and that is pretty much a formula for victory a significant percentage of the time. 

At least, one would think. I haven't had the chance to watch the Thunder yet this year, but Scott Brooks' revamped squad has gotten off to a somewhat shaky 2-2 start, going L-W-L-W in games against San Antonio, Portland, Atlanta and Toronto. Either Durant or Westbrook has led the team in scoring in three of those four contests, with new acquisition Kevin Martin's 28 points against Atlanta the lone outlier. 

Otherwise, the Thunder trot out a familiar group of faces. Secretary of Defense and Dismissive Glaring Kendrick Perkins mans the center spot, doing all of the things that Kendrick Perkins does. He's shot 50% from the field in 12 attempts and is pulling in about 6 boards a game. 

Serge Ibaka is another known entity; he exists to block shots and and slam it home on the glass. He's shot 53% from the field thus far and checks in at 2.3 blocks per game. With him, Noah and Gibson on the floor at various times, I guess you could go ahead and call this one a block party (I'll show myself out now). 

Former Bulls Thabo Sefolosha is an oversized two who also exists to play defense. He can score on occasion, however, but he's putting up 6.3 ppg thus far, just about a point higher than his career average. He's also shooting a ridiculous 63% from downtown, although that of course triggers the sample size alarm; he's only taken eight attempts. 

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are guys who I hear are pretty good...y/n? Anyway, that's what I heard, FWIW. Again, sample size, but Durant and Westbrook are 19th and 42nd in PER, respectively. Of note, neither has shot the ball particularly well this season. Durant is shooting 45% from the field and 31% from 3, whereas Westbrook is shooting 39% and 27%. I wouldn't necessarily count on this to continue, but perhaps the added burden of "not having James Harden" is requiring some acclimation. 

Otherwise, the Thunder don't boast much in the way of offensive threats. Nick Collison is another Gritasaurus rex, and Hasheem Thabeet, although he has seemingly upped his game a bit, is not much of a threat to do anything other than swat a shot or so a game. 

Kevin Martin is probably the non-Westbrook/Durant guy to watch. Lost in the ceaseless chaos that was the aftermath of the Harden trade is the fact that Martin can play a little ball. He's shot 51% from the field and 62% from 3 in 28 minutes per game. He isn't Harden, but he could become a very solid third option for the Thunder as the season progresses. In fact, he already has been just that. 

Points of Concern 
Obviously, playing the Thunder necessitates some sort of voodoo Bayou sorcery if you're going to get out alive. This means, in a few words, just sort of hoping that Durant and Westbrook settle for the outside shots and miss. Given their aforementioned shooting percentages, that night not be such a bad idea. 

The Bulls have had great success getting out and scoring in transition. Kirk Hinrich has been especially adept at leading the charge, and the Bulls will need to continue to do this if they're going to get into the range of just enough points to grit out a win. However, attempting to do this against a team like the Thunder, triggered by Russell Westbrook, is like literally playing with fire. Playing with fire is in no way a good idea. This was your pro bono life advice for the day. 

Again, whoever ends up matched up on Martin from the Bulls' revamped Not Bench Mob will have to be as vigilant as Batman after yet another Arkham prisoner outbreak. The guy can shoot and the Bulls have had a tendency to leave some shooters open once the game begins to open up. Of course, that is sort of the nature of up tempo basketball, but it is something the Bulls need to have in their minds. 

Unfortunately, attacking the paint from the perimeter is just not something the Bulls really do. Even if the Bulls can--and at this point I'm pretty much just referring to Luol Deng--they'll be met with several towers which also happen to be human beings that play basketball and block shots in exchange for significant amounts of money. 

So, it's a bit of a slippery slope. Telling a team to get out and run and yet, don't run that much, is a bit like telling George Carlin to hey, maybe cut down on the profanity a little bit. 

What Needs To Happen 
  • Say it with one more time: FIND. THE. SHOOTER(S). Give up a few long rebounds in a row and the Thunder will be out and running...and that means shooters occupying nice open spots on the wings and in the corners as Westbrook Denards his way up the middle of the floor. 
  • Offensive rebounding. Obviously, the Bulls have made hay on the offensive glass for some time now. However, they haven't exactly lit it up in that regard of late (although they didn't really need to on Tuesday, and it wasn't really the biggest reason for Saturday's defeat). Either way, the best way to slow down the Thunder attack is by forcing them to defend and reset their defense. 
  • Carlos Boozer shooting tracker hopes for nice things. The Bulls fought their way through a second rough shooting night from Boozer on Tuesday, but the Bulls will need him in top form tonight. Unfortunately, getting off that ridiculous jumper might be a bit tough against a rangy guy like Ibaka (assuming that's who the Thunder put on him). Unlike Perkins, Ibaka can come out and defend a bit, so I'm not really sure what happens when the Bulls go to their version of the drive and kick, also known as "a guard drives and dishes to Boozer near the elbow" as opposed to what most teams do, that being driving and dishing to a so called "three-point shooter."

Useless Prediction Time 
  • Westbrook goes off to the tune of 32 points. 
  • Durant has a somewhat frigid night from the field. 
  • Joakim Noah regularly wins the battle down low against Perkins et al. Not quite double-double worthy, but he'll get into the double digits in points. With Perkins (?) matched up on him, we'll see plenty of opportunities for the patented jumper to the finger gun holster maneuver. 
  • That said, I'm not sure the Bulls have enough to keep up. Bulls 95, Thunder 102. 

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