The Chicago Bulls aren’t really jolly as they head into a very difficult Christmas day game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, with their losing streak and rumored team rifts and potential trades weighing down on the team.
The Bulls have lost three in a row after a four game win-streak. It seems the 147-144 quadruple overtime loss against the Detroit Pistons changed the dynamics, the direction, maybe of an entire season. It suddenly made things rise above the water, like maybe Jimmy Butler not liking how Fred Hoiberg is too soft on the players, or maybe players not liking Jimmy Butler opening his big mouth too many times, or the problem with having Taj Gibson, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah on the same team in a changing NBA.
Derrick Rose, with or without the mask, is another issue. He’s averaging just 13.5 points per game this season while shooting 37.2% from the field. He is 6-of-21 from the field in the last two games, as the Bulls usually sound defense (97.8 points per 100 possessions, third in the league) has given up 106 points per night against both the Knicks and the Nets. Facing a Thunder team that’s scoring 108.5 points per 100 possessions, second only to the Warriors, is going to take some serious regrouping. Noah, maybe the team’s most important defensive player, won’t be playing for at least two weeks.
We didn’t guard, we didn’t rebound, we never got back in this game. The only way we are going to win basketball games is if we come together as a team and stay together. Through the good times and bad. We’ve got that group of guys. We’re talented enough. We just have to buy into it.
The Thunder don’t have these issues at the moment, made up or real, tearing up the team. They’ve won nine of their last 10 games including two huge wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and one last-shot victory against the Los Angeles Clippers. Kevin Durant is averaging 26.6 points per game without Russell Westbrook (mostly) trying to steal the spotlight (25.8 points, 9.3 assists), as it seems like the Thunder aren’t scrapping, but slightly moving away from their usually more individualistic tendencies.
The ball moves more, which means more open shots for everyone, and less stagnation on offense especially in the closing moments. This is still the Durant Westbrook show, but when the team’s winning, it seems they don’t have to resort to playing one or two on five basketball which is seen as the root cause of their failure to win an NBA championship or even make the Finals since their disappointing trip in 2012, the last time James Harden was on the team.
Predictions: While a fully healthy Bulls match up well against the Thunder, on the road or at home, with Derrick Rose usually playing very well against Russell Westbrook, it’s going to be difficult hiding their issues this time, which should mean the Thunder’s roll will continue to a fourth straight win.