Chicago Bulls: Oklahoma City Thunder
"Because these injuries that these guys are having are injuries that you really got to rest them. But the thing about these guys, everybody on this team, guys just keep pushing through injury. Instead of like any other team guys would just sit out, but these guys are still pushing, pushing the limit. No matter how hard it hurts they're still going. It's frustrating but things like that are going to happen. ... we don't know what else we can do, outside of going out there and keep playing hard."
That is the mentality the Bulls have had for the better part of four seasons under Tom Thibodeau. But as recent events show, that mentality, at least with regard to injuries, is slowly starting to change because the expectations surrounding this team have changed.
The players know that they are no longer championship contenders.
When Derrick Rose went down the Bulls' championship aspirations went down with him. After trying to battle through all the adverse circumstances, even the proudest of players see the writing on the wall. Unlike the tunnel vision of Thibodeau, the players know there is a bigger picture in play than what amounts to a relatively meaningless regular-season game in December. That's why it will be so interesting to watch how players deal with lingering injuries throughout the rest of another lost season.
Bulls players up and down the roster have played through various injuries the past few seasons because they knew they were always playing for something more. They were playing for the opportunity to win a championship. Now, unlike before, they are just playing out the string. That's why the past week has been so telling with regard to how proud veterans like Joakim Noah and Luol Deng have handled their own lingering injuries.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Let's take a quick look at how the Oklahoma City Thunder earned a 107-95 win over the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
How it happened: Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 32 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists while Reggie Jackson added 18 points off the bench. Joakim Noah had a big night for the Bulls, racking up 23 points, 12 rebounds and 3 assists, but it wasn't enough for a team playing without Luol Deng (Achilles), Kirk Hinrich (back) and Jimmy Butler -- who sprained his right ankle in the first half.
What it means: The Bulls hung tough in this game but they could not muster enough offense to hang with the powerful Thunder. Tom Thibodeau does not want to use injuries as an excuse for his team, but the reality is that the Bulls simply don't have enough firepower right now. A team can't lose that many key players and expect to win most nights. The Bulls haven't quit and they continue to play hard -- they just don't have enough healthy bodies right now and the players know it.
Hits: Taj Gibson had 16 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists off the bench.
Misses: Rookie Tony Snell was just 4-for-15 from the field.
Stat of the night: The Thunder were 9-for-15 beyond the arc. The Bulls were just 8-for-29.
What's next: The Bulls head back to Chicago to face off against the Cleveland Cavaliers Saturday night.
Taj Gibson and the Chicago Bulls are hoping the same applies to losing streaks as his team gets set to face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night.
"We're going to have to talk a little bit better," Gibson said after Wednesday's loss to the Houston Rockets. "Our guards are going to have to fight through a lot of screens. It's going to be a battle. It's going to be won on the boards and talking on defense and helping each other and just being supportive of each other on the court.
"It seems like our defense kind of lacks [the] talking and support the way we normally have. If one man goes, the other man's going to step into his spot and help him out. I think we got to communicate a little bit better."
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau knows that his team must get ready for the Thunder's tempo. OKC certainly plays fast, just like the Rockets.
"You got guys that can break you down off the dribble," Thibodeau said. "They can turn you over. They get into the open floor; they can hurt you there. Durant is a tough guy to challenge because he can score so many different ways. They're playing very unselfishly. So they move the ball well.
"[Serge] Ibaka is a very underrated guy. They got guys that are doing their jobs. [Kendrick] Perkins is a tough guy inside. [Nick] Collison is a guy that just makes their team function well. [Reggie] Jackson is a rising young player that's terrific. Westbrook is Westbrook. Durant's Durant. Their record says what they are."
What's next: The Bulls take on the Thunder in Oklahoma City at 7 p.m. CT.
Asik and Brewer see old colleagues: The Bulls have plenty of connections to the Rockets. Former Bulls swingman Ronnie Brewer spent some time visiting with his old teammates. And ex-Bulls center Omer Asik warmly greeted Chicago reporters on his way out of the Toyota Center after Wednesday’s tilt.
Asik’s name has bounced around in a lot of trade speculation recently, and his former teammates are hoping he lands on his feet.
"I love Omer," said Bulls forward Carlos Boozer. "I don't know the whole situation, obviously not being here, but O's a great dude, a great friend. Was a phenomenal teammate for us. I just wish him the best. I don't know which direction they're going, if they're going to keep him or move him. I don't really have a place to talk about it. But just on a personal level for Omer, I wish the best for him. He's a good dude."
The last word: Boozer, before Wednesday morning's shootaround, on how he's trying to remain positive during the Bulls' recent skid:
"We're going to keep fighting no matter what. That's the makeup of our guys. Each guy in here has been through something where they had to work a little harder to have success. We've got a team full of guys like that. We'll fight through it and hopefully you can see the close games we're coming up short in right now turn into victories. We've had a lot of close losses, and hopefully we can get over the hump."
WICHITA, Kan. -- Let's take a quick look at how the Chicago Bulls earned a 104-95 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night at Intrust Bank Arena.
How it happened: Derrick Rose led the Bulls with 26 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds as Chicago stayed undefeated in the preseason. Carlos Boozer chipped in with 20 points and 14 rebounds, while Luol Deng added 20 points and 10 rebounds of his own. Kevin Durant scored 22 points to lead the Thunder.
What it means: This was the first time since Rose has come back that he did not dominate offensively early and often, but he saved his best for the end, taking things over and hitting big shot after big shot in the fourth quarter. The Bulls have missed Rose in many ways, but maybe most of all is his ability to take command late and contribute down the stretch in many areas. Rose turned a poor shooting night into a great one and gave himself even more confidence as he makes his way back from having not played in almost a year and a half.
Hits: Mike Dunleavy had 9 points and 3 rebounds off the bench for the Bulls.
Misses: The Bulls turned the ball over 18 times.
Stat of the night: Rose scored 13 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter. He played 35 minutes -- the most since he has been back.
What's next: The Bulls wrap up their preseason schedule at home Friday night, when they take on the Denver Nuggets at the United Center.
CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah sat at his locker and scanned the box score intently late Thursday night. The emotional center had just racked up nine points, 13 rebounds and six assists in a 97-91 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and he wore the scratches on his chest to prove it. He saw the 20 turnovers the Bulls committed and he played over in his mind several stretches in the game, but he didn't need the box score to remind him what the Bulls were missing Thursday night.
That would be a superstar.
Kevin Durant, who finished with 24 points and nailed several huge shots in the final moments, played that role to perfection down the stretch for the Thunder. Derrick Rose, who actually made an appearance at the United Center on Thursday, could only watch helplessly somewhere.
"I think we did a good job on KD, he just ... he's a great player," Noah said. "He hit some tough shots at the end of the game. Off one leg, I think one of the shots he was behind the backboard. You've got to give credit when credit is due, but we feel like we could have played better."
Sure, the Bulls absolutely could have played better. They could have taken better care of the ball, they could have played better defense in the fourth quarter, Carlos Boozer could have made a couple more shots, but in the end, they didn't have the star power to overcome Durant's performance. They didn't have the guy they could turn to late in the game to turn things around. They didn't have Rose ... and it was more evident than ever on this night.
Of course, the Bulls didn't want to hear any of that.
"You can say that, but there's no excuses right now," forward Taj Gibson said. "We're a man down, but guys will have to step up. We got a bunch of good looks late, a couple in-and-outs, but you can't make excuses. That's what most guys want to do, make excuses about not having Derrick, but we just got to keep grinding until he gets back and just move forward."
Gibson and his teammates can talk about moving forward but that's going to be hard when the offense is stuck in place late in games. Without Rose, the Bulls are still trying to figure out where to go down the stretch in games. The problem is that, unlike the Thunder with Russell Westbrook, they don't have another bonafide star on the roster besides Rose. There's not another guy who can create his own shot off the dribble.
"I think the biggest thing is when we have a lead, we just got to figure out a way how to increase it," veteran guard Rip Hamilton said. "Just take it a possession at a time. I think we're OK. I just think once we get a lead, we got to figure out a way how to extend the lead."
Doing that against mediocre teams such as Cleveland is one thing, but doing that against an elite team such as the Thunder is another. Bulls fans will point to games last season in which guys like C.J. Watson and John Lucas III stepped up in place of Rose and knocked down several huge shots late. The difference in those cases is that both of those guys could create their own shot off the dribble. The Bulls don't have many of those guys now. Nate Robinson can fill that role at times, but he was just 1-for-6 on the night with a turnover.
"It's a long season," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "It's early. We just got to find ways without having Derrick there, even if you're having a bad night, you just got to find ways to win those games."
The problem the Bulls are going to run into this season without Rose is that Deng's sentiment is easy to say but hard to accomplish against championship-caliber teams such as the Thunder and MVP-caliber players such as Durant.
CHICAGO -- The Oklahoma City Thunder committed 22 turnovers and won on Thursday.
The Chicago Bulls committed 20 turnovers and lost.
The Thunder can afford to make such mistakes because they have players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook who can make up for them. On Thursday, the Thunder eliminated a six-point deficit in the fourth quarter and outscored the Bulls 31-19 in the final 12 minutes for a 97-91 victory.
The Bulls, on the other hand, have little room for error, especially against the NBA’s elite teams, without their own star to counter.
“Like I said, we have to sustain our defense and take care of the ball,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team fell to 3-2. “We did not sustain our effort, and we need to have low turnovers. That will put us in a position to win.”
The turnovers were a problem across the board for the Bulls. Carlos Boozer committed five of them, Joakim Noah and Richard Hamilton had four apiece and Luol Deng had three.
After the game, Noah sat at his locker and shook his head as he thought just how close the Bulls were to knocking off the defending Western Conference champions.
“We turned the ball over too much,” said Noah, who had nine points and a game-high 13 rebounds. “It was a frustrating loss. We really had a chance to win this game. They’re obviously very talented, but a couple of our shots down the stretch just went in and out. Overall, I felt we played hard, but those turnovers definitely haunted us.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about W’s and L's. We got an L tonight. We got to learn from it. We always feel like we can play against anybody. It’s just frustrating -- you do one or two things differently and you win the game. When you lose by such few possessions it’s tough.”
Deng didn't think the Bulls were that far away from winning such games. He said the Bulls needed to play mostly the same, but just find a way to close out games. Four of their five games so far have been decided by seven points or less.
“You can’t be surprised when it’s a close game,” said Deng, who scored a game-high 27 points. “There’s going to be a lot of those games. You just got to be tough minded to win those games in the end.
“No one has to change the way they play. We just got to keep playing. ... We’re right there in the game. We got to have a better fourth. That’s what we normally do, and that’s what we got to get back to.”
"I jammed my thumb," Deng said after the game. "Just got to ice it, treat it."
Deng, who scored a game-high 27 points, appeared to get hit by Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka. He was icing the thumb after the game.
Deng tore a ligament in his left wrist last season but decided to put off surgery. He has noted several times over the past few months that he may not have to have surgery on the wrist at all, depending on how it responds to treatment.
The Bulls will not practice Friday. They face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night.
CHICAGO -- Let's take a quick look at how the Oklahoma City Thunder squeaked out a 97-91 Thursday night at the United Center.
How it happened: Kevin Durant finished with 24 points and hit several big shots down the stretch to ice the win. Serge Ibaka added 21 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots, playing great defense throughout the night. Luol Deng led the Bulls with 27 points. Rip Hamilton had 20 points and eight rebounds, while Joakim Noah pulled down 13 rebounds.
What it means: The Bulls miss Derrick Rose every night, but they missed him badly down the stretch in this one. Durant was simply overwhelming down the stretch and ended up breaking the Bulls down in the final seconds with jumpers and free throws. The Bulls just didn't have an answer. Tom Thibodeau has got to be pleased with the way his team competed, but they made too many mistakes throughout the game to overcome. Thibodeau will not be happy with the 20 turnovers his team committed. The Bulls are never going to roll over against any team, but they simply don't have the star power to overcome great individual efforts on nights when players like Durant decide to take over.
Stat of the night: The Thunder outscored the Bulls 46-34 in the paint.
Hits: Kirk Hinrich bounced back with a nice game, scoring 12 points and dishing out five assists, but he will be frustrated with himself for missing a few shots in the final moments.
Misses: Carlos Boozer was just 3-for-9 from the field and did not play much in the fourth quarter for the second game in a row.
What's next: The Bulls take on the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night at the United Center.
"It's a different team," Westbrook said.
In the next breath, the All-Star guard paid the Bulls a compliment they've been getting throughout the young season.
"But they're still are a good defensive team," he said. "They've still got their same group of guys that's been here, so they're still a good team."
There's no question the Bulls are different without Rose on the floor, but players and coaches around the league still have a lot of respect for the way coach Tom Thibodeau has prepared his team for the season.
"The Bulls are very good," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after Thursday morning's shootaround. "There's a bunch of things that they do well; one is they play hard. They play extremely hard. Their offense is run with great execution, they set great screens, their bigs are very skilled. Their defense is sound, they play hard, they help each other, they don't give a lot of easy buckets and they contest shots. But they're one of the best teams in basketball and coach Thibs, he does a good job with the group."
Brooks understands it was a huge blow when Rose went down, but like many around the NBA, he doesn't expect the Bulls to take as much of a hit as many fans think. That's because Thibodeau has defense and intensity ingrained into the DNA of his team.
"Like every team in this league, (if) you're losing one of your best players you're not going to be as good," Brooks said. "But the way they play, it never changes. They play with great energy, they play with great hustle and toughness and they have good players. Coach Thibs does a great job -- when you lose one of the best players in basketball, it's impossible to be a better team. But they're managing it through all the work they're putting in, and just knowing Thibs, he coached me a couple times as an assistant coach, he's a great coach, a worker and he gets the most out of everybody he has on his team."
Martin a fan of Rip: Kevin Martin is still adjusting to his new role with the Thunder, but his offensive game probably isn't going to change much at all. He's a shooter and always will be. The veteran admitted Thursday that one of the players he watched to learn more about the game was Bulls guard Rip Hamilton.
"I used to watch a lot of (his game) because I knew I was going to have to score without the ball when I first got to Sacramento playing with Mike Bibby and Chris Webber and how they passed the ball," Martin said Thursday. "So I watched a lot of film on Rip in his Detroit days when he was scoring 20 points on 11, 12 shots night in and night out. So he was definitely a big idol of mine."
The last word: Kevin Durant, on why he believes Derrick Rose will come back better than ever from his knee injury:
"He's a hard worker, he works extremely hard and he's one of those guys (who) has a lot of faith in himself, and I can tell that he has a lot of confidence in what the guys are doing around him, as far as rehabbing and guys helping him out with his knee. If guys go down with knee injuries that are serious, I always hope they are coming back stronger and better, that's just me. Playing with Derrick on the USA team and getting to know him a little bit over these last few years, I just hope and pray that he comes back like he was when he left or even better (than) when he left. He's going to be a lot stronger, and I've been watching videos online, you can see how hard he's been working ... so I'm looking forward to him coming back. It's going to be good for the game."
It's the question general managers have been asking themselves on a daily basis for a while. It's the question basketball fans have bounced around ever since the Miami Heat pulled off what was then unthinkable by signing LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh two summers ago. It's the question that players wonder about as they sit in locker rooms across the league.
So what's the answer? Well, it depends who you ask.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau only has one star in Derrick Rose, but Rose is going to miss most of the year as he recovers from a knee injury.
"It's different for every team," Thibodeau said before Thursday's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. "I think you can win different ways. A lot of people think it's three, three players in the top five. But over the years there have been teams that are deep, two deep at every position, and they've won, so I'd say the one thing that you probably have to have are good players."
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks offered a more humorous approach.
"I was fortunate enough to be on Houston's championship team in '94. They had (Hakeem) Olajuwon and Otis Thorpe and myself as the three stars," he said Thursday morning with a chuckle.
"We had one star, Olajuwon, and everyone knew what we were going to do," he continued. "We were going to give the ball to him in the left block. And we had a bunch of good players. You need good players. You need a bunch of stars. Does it make it easier to have a bunch of stars and All-Stars? Yeah, obviously. But you need good players. Good players win championships."
Obviously, Brooks understands how lucky he is to have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as the leaders of his team, but he believes that the core around both players must step up and do their job.
"One star, two stars, three stars? There's enough stars in this league for everybody to have a chance to win," Brooks said. "I don't look at it that way. We build our team -- obviously we have Kevin and Russell have been All-Stars the last two or three years, and well-deserved -- but for us to win they have to play well, but we have to have our other guys playing well. Everybody has to be a star in their own right."
While both coaches agree that a team must be comprised of good players, Durant knows that it's better to have as many stars as possible.
"I think if you have a good solid team and everybody plays together, plays defense, you always give yourself a chance," he said. "But it's cool to have two very good players on your team. You always go far with talent."
Like most fans, Durant can see that the current trend in the league is to load up with two or stars and see what happens.
"You could say that," he said. "With the Miamis, the Bostons, go down the line, the Brooklyns, there's a lot of teams, Chicago. There's a lot of teams that got two or three guys that could be a star on any team. The league is definitely getting better, and I'm glad I'm playing in it at this time. It's a competitive league and we're looking forward to a long season."
Does he really believe the Bulls have enough star caliber players around Rose?
"D-Rose is out and they've still got Rip (Hamilton) and they've still got Luol (Deng) and Booz (Carlos Boozer) and (Joakim) Noah, he's coming into his own on the offensive end as well, so they've got a tough team," Durant said. "They've got a really tough team. And it's always fun playing against these guys because we know so many players on their team. So it's always a good competitive game."
Rose tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Game 1 of a first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers last season and had surgery May 12. Typically the recovery time after the surgery is eight to 12 months.
“Definitely, he’ll be stronger, definitely be a lot better after seeing him this summer, seeing how quickly he was getting better and better,” Westbrook said prior to Thursday’s game with the Bulls. “No doubt in my mind he will. He works hard at what he does, and he’ll definitely come back better determined and come back and try to be better.”
Rose was restricted in what he could do this summer, but he still attended workout sessions with Westbrook in California.
“It was different,” Westbrook said of watching Rose. “He wasn’t able to do everything he was capable of doing. At the same time, he was still there working, trying to get better.
“It was tough. We’ve worked out together for about four years now. So it was definitely a little different. Like I said, he was still in the gym, doing what he can and what he could.”
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Don't fall into the trap.
Obviously, their presence, especially that of Rose, would have helped -- but it wouldn't have changed the outcome. The Bulls' biggest issues were unrelated to the reigning MVP's absence. The issue was that unlike so many other times in the past, Tom Thibodeau's team simply got outworked and outhustled by a more aggressive squad.
"We were awful offensively, defensively, just disappointing," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "They really kicked our (butt) in every aspect of the game."
In a matchup between the teams with the best records in the league, the Thunder toyed with the Bulls the way the Bulls usually dispatch the Detroit Pistons. In certain stretches, especially late in the game, the Bulls played hard. But for the most part, the Bulls allowed the Thunder to do whatever they wanted to do on either end of the floor.
How it happened: Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant dominated most of the day. The pair combined for 53 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists -- doing seemingly whatever they wanted on both ends of the floor. The Bulls allowed the Thunder to control the pace of the game and seemed very lethargic through long stretches of the contest. The Bulls' defense, which has been one of the best in the league all year, had one of its worst performances in the Tom Thibodeau era. Kyle Korver was one of the only bright spots on the day for the Bulls, scoring 14 points. John Lucas III added 19 points off the bench.
What it means: The Bulls were awful in this one. Obviously, they miss having Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton on the floor, but the pair's absence wasn't why they lost this game. The Bulls lost because they got blitzed from start to finish by an extremely talented group. The Thunder outworked the Bulls on almost every level and were clearly the more aggressive team for 48 minutes. Thibodeau looked disgusted most of the day and it's easy to understand why. He is used to seeing his team scratch and claw for every inch they get on the floor -- but they didn't do that against Oklahoma City. They let Westbrook, Durant and their teammates do whatever they wanted.
Stat of the night: The Thunder shot 49 percent from the field while the Bulls shot just 33 percent.
Breaking it open:The Thunder came out of halftime leading by 10, they finished the third leading by 29. They came out at the beginning of the quarter trying to end the game, and that's exactly what they did. They had more energy and hit from all angles on the floor. It was arguably the worst quarter the Bulls have played under Thibodeau.
What’s next: The Bulls are right back at it Monday night when they take on the Houston Rockets. Rose will likely miss his 11th consecutive game, while Rip Hamilton will be a game-time decision because of a shoulder injury.
DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Tom Thibodeau follows his script when he speaks to the media every day.
He doesn't want to give reporters much insight into the Bulls' game plan, he doesn't want to disclose whether an injured player will play, and he certainly doesn't want to acknowledge that one particular game is bigger than any other. In Thibodeau's world, at least publicly, every game counts the same.
That's why it was interesting to hear the veteran coach break character, albeit in a very small way, Saturday afternoon, when asked whether some regular-season games were bigger than others in advance of his team's showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.
"For us it's the next game, but it's a good test," Thibodeau said. "They're tough; you're going to be tested in every way imaginable. Your transition defense, your catch-and-shoot defense, your low-post defense, your rebounding, your offensive execution. You have to play 48 minutes against them. So we have to come with the right mindset."
The mindset is this, and it's definitely one Thibodeau is preaching to his players: The Thunder are atop the Western Conference, a team the Bulls may see in the NBA Finals if they get there. While Thibodeau doesn't subscribe to the theory of measuring-stick games, that's exactly what this game is, and his players know it.
"It's a big game," Bulls center Joakim Noah said after Friday night's win over the Detroit Pistons. "It's going to be exciting. We want to play against the best. So they're a great team, we think we're a great team and let's get it poppin'."
In order for the Bulls to pick up a win, especially without Derrick Rose, who is expected to miss his 10th consecutive game because of a groin injury, Thibodeau knows his team must find a way to at least slow down Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
"Great players, you've just got to try and make them work for their points," Thibodeau said. "They're going to score. We've got to make them play in a crowd, try to get our defense set, we've got to rebound the ball, we've got to challenge shots. With those type of players, you could defend the play perfectly and challenge the shot and they still have the ability to make. But we have to have the determination to make them work and tie our defense together, and then offensively we've got to take care of the ball. If you turn the ball over against them, they score very quickly in transition, and that usually is what gets them going."
Rose trains in the summer with both Durant and Westbrook, so he knows firsthand how difficult it is to guard them.
"West is a challenge, period," Rose said. "Against anybody, where he's very aggressive. He's one of the leaders on that team, young leaders on that team that's playing good basketball right now. They're moving the ball great."
As for Durant, Rose reiterated that he believed the young forward should be the NBA's MVP this season.
"He's good, man," Rose said. "He's playing good basketball right now, shooting the ball great. MVP right now in my eyes, where he's one of the leaders on that team that's dominating the league at a young age and he deserves it."
No matter who is on the floor, Thibodeau and his team know it will be a challenge to pick up a win in Oklahoma City, but it's a challenge they are looking forward to. When Thibodeau talks about the success the Thunder have had, it sounds a little like he's speaking about his own team, at least in terms of how badly they want to win a title this season.
"Each year I think [Westbrook has] gotten better and better, as has Durant," Thibodeau said. "And they have a number of players on their team that have done the same thing. [Serge] Ibaka has really stepped it up, [James] Harden, to me, he's an All-Star coming off the bench. I had [Kendrick] Perkins in Boston. Perkins is an all-league defender. So that team is very well put together. They're deep, they play hard and they play unselfishly, their defense has improved. So there's not much they don't have -- and they're hungry."