Raise your hand if you had the Chicago Bulls with a better record than the Oklahoma City Thunder, even through just four games.
Now, anyone who just raised their hands, put them back down because you are lying.
To be fair, the Bulls have yet to play a team that could reasonably be expected to make the playoffs. The Thunder, on the other hand, have played two such teams, the Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs. Those two games account for OKC's two losses.
Oklahoma City is still adjusting to having Kevin Martin around instead of James Harden, of course. Martin's been solid in a Thunder uniform. Through four games, he's averaging 19 points in 28 minutes on 51/62/96 percentages. That's mildly ridiculous, even in a small sample. He's not the same all-around player Harden is, but he's going to be very good for OKC if the early going is any indication.
The Thunder also still have Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, of course, and Serge Ibaka manning the paint. Former Bull Thabo Sefolosha is the resident defensive stopper on the team, and figures to spend most of his time chasing Rip Hamilton around screens. Kendrick Perkins is…well, he's Kendrick Perkins, and the only thing we know for sure he'll be doing is scowling.
The Bulls with Derrick Rose match up pretty well with the Thunder. Rose and Westbrook are more or less a wash, Luol Deng can limit Durant, at least to some extent, and Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah get a slight edge over Ibaka, Perkins and Nick Collison. The Thunder's bench is better than Chicago's, but the coaching edge goes to Tom Thibodeau over Scott Brooks.
But, obviously, Derrick Rose is not available, which means that things are probably going to get ugly. The Bulls might be able to limit the Thunder offense to some extent, but it's going to be very hard for them to score at anything approximating a decent clip. Their best bet is probably to attack Durant and try to get him into foul trouble, while also playing through whoever Serge Ibaka is guarding in the post. Ibaka struggles as an individual defender at times, and making him play the ball eliminates the threat of his shot blocking on the weak side.
Key Matchup: Joakim Noah v. Serge Ibaka
This is obviously just a guess, but there's a strong possibility that both teams will cross-match their bigs defensively. Ibaka trying to check Boozer in the post is a bad matchup, at least on paper, as is Boozer trying to defend Ibaka. Perkins, as the superior post defender and inferior offensive option, will almost certainly draw Boozer on both ends, leaving Noah and Ibaka to square off.
Noah's offensive game has improved by leaps and bounds over the last few years, and he's been playing as well as he ever has to start the year. He's still solid defensively, of course, and his rebounding remains top notch. If the Bulls deploy him correctly, he has a chance to have another big game. As noted above, he should be able to score on Ibaka in isolation or at least force OKC to help, allowing him to find the open man. Ibaka is also known for chasing blocks he probably shouldn't and generally failing to box his man out. If that's the case against the Bulls, Noah/Taj/Boozer are going to eat the Thunder alive on the offensive glass.
Probable Starting Fives
Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook, PG; Thabo Sefolosha, SG; Kendrick Perkins, C; Serge Ibaka, PF, Kevin Durant, SFTags: Atlanta Hawks, Carlos Boozer, Chicago, Chicago Bulls, James Harden, Joakim Noah, Kevin Durant, Kevin Martin, Luol Deng, NBA, Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook, San Antonio Spurs
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