NBA Schedule 2010-11: Chicago Bulls Must Quiet Thunder In Season Opener

Brian ChappattaCorrespondent IIAugust 4, 2010

CHICAGO - JANUARY 04: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder passes the ball between Derrick Rose #1 and Loul Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on January 4, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Thunder defeated the Bulls 98-85. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The NBA recently released a partial schedule that highlights some of the biggest games on the biggest days.

Most experts are salivating at the Opening Day match-up between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics.

Yet, the battle between the Chicago Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder could be the more important game of the two.

The two marquee match-ups are actually strangely similar.

The Thunder are a lot like a younger version of the Celtics. Both teams have a core group of players returning. That's Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo for Boston and Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Jeff Green for Oklahoma City.

Both teams play unselfish basketball and were successful last season. Both gave the Los Angeles Lakers a tough battle in the postseason and have their sights set on dethroning the champs.

Then there are the Bulls and the Heat. Both are expected to be among the best in the NBA, but each squad looks vastly different from last season, after being rebuilt through free agency.

The Heat are a more veteran group, while the Bulls are a youthful bunch. Just as the Heat have everything to prove come opening tip, so do the Bulls.

Would it surprise anyone to see Durant and Rose butting heads in the NBA Finals sometime in the near future?

Probably not. These are two of the shining stars of Team USA this summer. This match-up is a showcase of the future of the NBA.

The question this opening game will answer is which of them will take the next step first.

If the Bulls want to contend for a title this season, they cannot afford to slip to the bottom of the standings early in the year like they have so often in the past.

Winning against the Thunder would be a major signal to the league and the fans that hiring Tom Thibodeau and adding all the new players were smart decisions.

If the Bulls get off to a slow start, people will start to point fingers, and a new coach with new players does not need the added pressure from the media and fans. It's a recipe for disaster.

Remember the 2007-2008 season, when experts predicted the Bulls would contend for the Eastern Conference crown (and Luol Deng would be an All-Star)?

Well, a 2-10 start to the regular season shot down those expectations in a hurry.

Perhaps losing to a tough Thunder squad would not send an immediate panic throughout Chicago. But a win would certainly give off positive vibes.

It would validate hiring Thibodeau, who is respected but has never been an NBA head coach before, over big-name former head coaches.

It would lessen the sting of getting snubbed by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.

It might even give the city hope that the Bulls can topple the new evil empire in South Beach.

That's a lot riding on the first of 82 regular season games. But in basketball, momentum can shift at a moment's notice.

Chicago needs to quickly get a win under its belt, and beating Oklahoma City would be the perfect time to do so. Unlike the Celtics and Thunder, these Bulls players have nothing to back up the hype surrounding them.

The Windy City's expectations are high.

Starting from the opening tip on October 27, the Bulls better do everything they can to meet and exceed them.