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Sunday, February 24, 2013
Bulls prepare for Durant, Westbrook and Co.

By Nick Friedell

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma City Thunder have something that the Chicago Bulls have been coveting for three seasons: A second star.

The dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been lighting up the NBA for years and help take the pressure off each other on the floor. In the process of trying to describe what makes the pair so difficult to guard, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau also shined a light on what has been the criticism from fans and pundits regarding the Bulls' roster surrounding injured point guard Derrick Rose. Durant and Westbrook are dangerous, in large part, because of the ability to play off on each other.

“Because you have to commit so much of your defense,” Thibodeau said. “Now when the ball comes out, your close outs, your protection, it’s that second guy that creates so much havoc. And they play off each other so well. And both guys are very underrated in terms of their playmaking. It’s not only their scoring, but their ability to read defenses and make plays. So you have to have the ability to finish your defense against them and they have very good offensively rebounding so we have to be ready.”

Thibodeau knows his team is in for a serious challenge Sunday night against the Thunder, but he is convinced, as usual, that his team can stay in the game if it sticks to its principles.

"Having low turnovers definitely gives us a chance to win the game," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "When we’re turning over the ball at a high rate, it gives them easy opportunities to get out in transition and get easy baskets and we feel like when our defense is set we’re pretty good."

The Bulls are hoping to build off the momentum they created by turning the ball over just six times in a win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday night. They know that to control Durant and Westbrook they must do their best to control the tempo.

"Those guys are going to get their numbers," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "I think the biggest challenge is just making it difficult for them and making it difficult for the other guys to get going. Sometimes they could get going, but make them take as many shots as they can."

The Thunder made plenty of shots in a April 1 drubbing of the Bulls last season and Taj Gibson insists his teammates haven't forgotten.

"You can’t never just forget about stuff like that," Gibson said. "We went in lackadaisical, they just jumped on us from the beginning and that’s where a good team always responds. We have to just come back and respond well. Even though we got a win [Friday], we can’t be too happy with this. We got to be striving for better, striving for more -- I’m looking forward to the next couple days."

Thibodeau just wants his team to focus on Sunday's game. Obviously, he knows how dominant Durant and Westbrook can be but he also knows his team can't spend all its time thinking about the two superstars.

"When you look at a team like that, they’re a lot more than Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook," he said. "That’s a great team. That’s a team that was in the Finals last year. They’re having a terrific year again this year. They got a lot of different weapons, they got size, they got quickness, so we’re going to have to be ready.