Oklahoma City Thunder (5-32) vs. Chicago Bulls (16-20)
Saturday, Jan. 10
7:30 PM CST
TV: KSBI-52 (Cox 9)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)
I've been looking forward to this game for about three weeks. Why? Well, obviously not because I think it's going to be a great matchup between contenders, but for an individual matchup.
I want to see Russell Westbrook versus Derrick Rose. We all do. And this isn't a "gauge where Russell's at" type of matchup -- he's played against much, much better point guards than Rose. But it's more just to watch the rookie with all the hype take on the one that's gaining steam. John Hollinger wrote about Westbrook probably being the best rookie guard when it's all said and done. Tonight's a big chance for Westbrook to prove it.
The thing about Westbrook -- early in the season when he had a nice game, he usually followed it up with a stinker. After he scored a then-career high 30 against Miami, he came back with just six on 3-13 shooting. After 19 solid points against the Mavs, he scored just two against the Spurs. But since that two point game against San Antonio, Westbrook has scored in double figures every game since (12 straight). And Russell, I apologize in advance for the jinx. I'm sorry.
The point I'm making is every game it kind of seems like he's due for a typical random rookie stinkpot. But he hasn't done it in three weeks. Compare that to Rose who had games with just three and eight in two of his last four. It's completely plausible and highly possible Russell may not play well tonight. Because I've been waiting for it to happen for a week. But he's got that little pull-up elbow jumper working for him and he's playing totally under control and staying within himself. He looks awesome right now. And he's just 20 and he's learning a new position. Can you tell I'm excited?
The last time Rose and Westbrook hooked up, it was in the 2008 Final Four in San Antonio. Rose outscored Westbrook 25-22 and the Tigers beat the Bruins 78-63. It should be another really good matchup between the two guards.
As for the actual game and not the game-within-the-game, OKC will keep this one close down the stretch. Nenad Krstic is figuring things out and playing back-to-back games should help him acclimate himself to the flow a lot better and I actually expect a solid game from him. I'm curious as to if Krstic will start over Robert Swift tonight and also curious to see what the starting five will look like. Last night it was Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Nick Collison and Robert Swift, a throwback to P.J.'s type lineups with Durant at the two and Green at the three. I could see that lineup working well tonight but I could also see it creating mismatches in the Bulls favor. So I really don't know. That's why I sit in my underwear and write previews and Scott Brooks actually makes the decision.
I'll toss out another prediction because I was relatively close last night and say I like the Bulls, but not by much. I'm going with 104-101 win for Chicago. The Bulls are 12-5 at home and OKC hasn't won on the road in a month. It makes for a pretty easy decision, but my OKC optimism keeps me thinking it will be close.