Time: Thursday, November 8th, 8 p.m. ET
Betting Line: Thunder (-1.5) at Bulls (+1.5) via OddsShark.com
Injuries: Derrick Rose
Key Storyline: A Tale of Two Ends
Through the first four games of the 2012-13 regular season, the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder have taken similar paths to different results. Both teams have struggled in areas they believed they'd be stronger in, yet only one has a winning record.
Somehow, some way, the Bulls have overcome such deficiencies to reach 3-1. The Thunder, meanwhile, have fallen to 2-2.
For the Bulls, the biggest area of disarray is their three-point shooting. Through four games, they're knocking down just 26.2 percent of their attempts.
The Thunder, meanwhile, are hitting 41.1 percent of their three-pointers.
For the Thunder, they are committing 17.5 turnovers and forcing just 13.3 per game. The Bulls, however, are coughing it up just 14.0 times and forcing 16.8.
The question is, which team will turn it around?
If the Bulls are able to get their three-pointers to fall and continue to play this smothering defense, they will emerge victorious. If the Thunder are able to play more responsible basketball, however, their ability to light it up from three could lead to victory.
The Bulls must improve their offense. The Thunder must limit their turnovers.
Which team makes the most significant strides will decide who wins.
Key Matchup: Luol Deng vs. Kevin Durant
There are quality matchups throughout both the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder lineups. With that being said, nothing jumps off of the paper quite like the potential Luol Deng vs. Kevin Durant showdown.
The only question is, where do we end the excitement?
Deng is one of the game's premier defenders. His combination of size, strength, toughness and fundamentals make him one of the most overwhelming stoppers in the league, which is a direct reason he was an All-Star in 2012.
Durant, meanwhile, is a three-time scoring champion who seems to improve every time he hits the floor. He's rebounding at a rate of 12.3 boards per game early on, which is greater than expected for a small forward who stands at 6'9".
The difference for Durant is that he can shoot as well as any player in the NBA. Despite identifying primarily as a jump shooter, Durant posted a 2012 slash line of .496/.387/.860.
We know Deng will not be able to shut down Durant, but can he contain him? If he is able to limit his shot attempts via pressure-man defense, the Bulls can pull this one off.
If Durant is firing on all cylinders, however, it will be very difficult to take the Thunder down.
X-Factor: Carlos Boozer
It's a well-known fact that the Chicago Bulls are without superstar point guard Derrick Rose. It has also come to light that both Deng and Joakim Noah will provide consistent scoring.
Unfortunately, the idea that Carlos Boozer is a reliable scoring option has proven to be nothing short of a fallacy.
Boozer started the 2012-13 season with a bang, averaging 18.5 points per game on 62.5 percent shooting from the floor. Unfortunately, the past two games have seen the former Duke Blue Devil average just 8.0 points on 26.9 percent shooting.
Through two games, it appeared as if Boozer had finally become the scorer the Bulls had hoped he'd be when they signed him for $80 million (via ESPN Chicago). The past two outings, however, have reminded Chicago of how inconsistent a player he has become.
Does anyone else know why they haven't turned to the pick-and-roll as their primary source of offense? Seems like that would be a good idea considering Boozer's All-Star caliber success with the play.
Regardless of what the past may tell us, Boozer remains a key piece of the Bulls' postseason puzzle. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, his value will be on full display.
If he is able to overcome shot blocking guru Serge Ibaka, the Bulls will be in prime position to earn a victory. If he continues to struggle to find the bottom of the net, however, Chicago will fall victim to their second loss in two games.
The Chicago Bulls' team defense is the best in the NBA. The numbers show it, as they limited teams to a league-best 88.2 points per game in 2012.
NBA general managers believe it, as well, as 40 percent of league executives voted Chicago as the best defensive unit (via NBA.com).
With that being said, there is only so much you can do when faced with the likes of Durant and Russell Westbrook. Although the numbers may show that the Bulls could contain them, a box score cannot measure fourth-quarter contributions.
At this point in time, there is no one better for those type of situations than Durant. Worst of all for the Bulls, Durant is due for a big fourth-quarter performance.
Through four games, Durant is averaging just 20.8 points on 15.0 shots per game. His rebounding and facilitating statistics are sitting pretty at 12.3 boards and 5.8 assists, but he is not playing the aggressive style of scoring that the Thunder would like him to.
Against the Bulls, we can expect Durant to shoot the ball at least 20 times as he and Deng battle for supremacy.
With this being established, the Bulls' greatest weakness will be exposed. As Durant steps up and pours in the points during the fourth quarter, the Bulls will realize they have no go-to player with the game on the line.
Unless Richard Hamilton discovers his mid-2000s form, that won't change. OKC wins a nail-biter.
Oklahoma City Thunder 94, Chicago Bulls 89
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