Chicago at Oklahoma City
Time: 8:30 PM CT (ESPN)
Spread: OKC -3.5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
Despite mass instability and a plethora of offensive issues, the Chicago Bulls have still halved their last 10 games and are just a game below .500. With just a 9-14 road record, however, a major challenge awaits tonight in facing Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Westbrook and company are 16-6 at Chesapeake Energy Arena, and the Thunder are 28-21 overall as losers of its past two games. NBA oddsmakers set the line 3.5 points in favor of OKC, a team currently in possession of the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference.
Chicago’s issues all could have been forseen: mediocrity and poor play from starting point guard Rajon Rondo (“starting,” that is, as his demotion has no longer made him that), and a sheer lack of shooting as one of the poorest three-point shooting teams in the Association. Chicago has had spacing issues all season, and the underperformance of Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic basically spelled doom before anyone could say “breakout season!” for either of the respective forwards.
Mirotic may eventually find himself on the block, and the Bulls seem all but destined to make a move to shake things up. The formula for winning basketball in this era just is not composed by having poor shooting guards, and Rondo and Dwyane Wade have been that throughout their otherwise very solid careers. Pairing them? That is just a mistake.
Even so, the Bulls are in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. Chicago trails No. 6 Indiana by just two games, and home court advantage in the first round is still in play with No. 4 Washington just 4.5 games ahead. But Chicago has to put the petal to the metal now, and that just has not happened. Fred Hoiberg is reaching new levels of frustration with his team’s offensive futility, and 101.6 points per game just is not enough with the way the NBA has trended towards high scoring play the last few seasons.
Chicago did wisely part ways with Derrick Rose, but addressing the court spacing has to be the primary issue in tinkering with this roster and attempting to put a product on the court that can compete with the hot shooting of other teams both in the East and also the flamethrowing clubs out West like Houston and Golden State. Attaining to that level of play with the Bulls mediocre offensive options hardly even seems possible, but Chicago should be able to hang with a lower-tier team like tonight’s opponent in the Thunder.
Of course, no teams really hang with the Thunder when Russell Westbrook is locked in and playing smart basketball. His averaging of a triple-double has the chance to go down as a major historical achievement, and the only thing standing between Westbrook and an MVP award is the fact that James Harden is similarly lighting it up for a more successful Houston Rockets team.
Even so, the Thunder have successfully transitioned out of the Kevin Durant era, and new acquisitions Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis have both been effective additions to the team.
Beyond that, the strong defensive play of Steven Adams and his polar-opposite Enes Kanter has been encouraging. The Thunder have the option even of playing Adams and Kanter together, a twin-tower lineup that has proven itself surprisingly effective. OKC may still need a secondary star, and Oladipo may or may not be that, but the Thunder are undeniably a threat to any elite Western Conference team, even if not any sort of favorite against the true contending teams in the West.
Having a player of Westbrook’s caliber more or less assures that, in many senses. The Bulls will have their hands full with Russ, and given Chicago’s poor play and OKC’s relative-strength at home, this game should go roughly in the manner NBA oddsmakers prognosticate: an OKC win.