OKLAHOMA CITY, OK— Tonight, the Chicago Bulls open their 2010-11 NBA season in Oklahoma City. It has been a long wait for Chicago fans, who have been waiting to see just how good these new-look Bulls will play in a game that matters. But the first test will be a difficult challenge, on the road, without their newly acquired power forward, against a Western Conference foe – whom many people anticipate have risen to be the second best team in that conference. Derrick Rose will face his F.I.B.A. teammates Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, and fellow 21 year-old superstar, (this summer’s World’s MVP) Kevin Durant.
This is not going to be an easy way to start the season. Fortunately, for Chicago, Rose and company won the game that they played in Oklahoma City last year, 96-86, as apart of an unprecedented 5-game road winning streak (the first time in NBA history that a team won that many consecutive games against above-0.500 ball clubs). The highlight of that game was a cross-over and reverse lay-up Rose dished out upon, great defender and former Bull, Thabo Sefolosha.
However, this time may be different. The Thunder were 24-21 at that point last season. Since that loss, they have boasted a record of 26-11 – and, soon after, nearly forced a decisive Game 7 against would be 2-time repeating Champion L.A. Lakers.
Tonight’s game largely depends on the status of young, Thunder F/C, Serge Ibaka, who seems primed to break out into one of the league’s top rebounders and shot-blockers in 2011. Ibaka missed the Thunders’ final pre-season game against the New Orleans Hornets with a sprained wrist. His presence would help the Thunders’ chances of beating the Bulls – who will have Taj Gibson starting in the place of, the disabled, Carlos Boozer.
The key for the Bulls is cutting off penetration in the lanes for the young Thunder slashers. Turnovers will be a huge key to pull off an upset victory, as well. This will be the first regular season game that C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver, Omer Asik, Kurt Thomas, Keith Bogans, and Ronnie Brewer (who missed most pre-season action with a hamstring injury) will be playing together as teammates. Head coach, Tom Thibodeau, has said that one of his focal points is going to be keeping turnover differential as a strength for the Bulls. The importance of this cannot be understated going up against a powerhouse team, on the road. If the Bulls can force OKC to choke up the ball, and even get some long rebounds, that will spark the Bulls’ transition game – another one of Thibodeau’s keys for winning. Getting easy buckets should come much easier this season now that Chicago has added Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson to throw in alongside Derrick Rose. Brewer and Watson are bound to cause deflections and havok in the Thunders’ passing lanes. Putting on a solid 3-2 zone defense could easily hault the Thunder’s ball movement, and lead to steals and highlight finishes from Rose and Brewer in a flash.
Tonight’s game will be featured on ESPN at 7:00 CST.