The idea was for the Chicago Bulls to stay afloat until All-Star Derek Rose returns from his ACL tear.
Well at 3-1 the Bulls have more than stayed afloat, but their first real test without Rose comes Thursday night as they host the Oklahoma City Thunder at the United Center.
Like last year, Chicago has won with defense, but have also made up for its missing point guard by averaging an NBA second-best 25.3 assists per game.
The Bulls have turned to a different star each game this season, with forward Luol Deng leading the charge in Chicago’s 99-93 win over the Orlando Magic. Deng scored 15 of his 23 points in the second half, and the Bulls overcame a five-point deficit with a 15-2 run to hand the Magic their first loss of the season.
Center Joakim Noah is averaging 16 points per game, more than double his career average, and point guard Nate Robinson has been a spark plug off the bench, scoring in double figures in three straight games.
The Thunder have most of their superstars, and may have finally adjusted to guard James Harden’s absence. Reports surfaced about infighting on the sidelines during Thunder timeouts, and frustration after their 0-2 start.
But Oklahoma City has rebounded with two straight wins, including a 108-88 blowout of the Toronto Raptors. Russell Westbrook led all scorers with 19 points and dished out eight assists, as the Thunder built a 25-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and the bench finished out the game.
Guard Kevin Martin was the Thunder’s main haul out of the trade that shipped out Harden, and thus far he’s filled in well off the bench, averaging 19.3 points per game on 51 percent shooting. Martin is also hitting more than three 3-pointers a game.
One of Harden’s better points was his ability to run the offense with the rest of the bench while Westbrook and leading scorer Kevin Durant rested, a skill Martin has lacked during his career. As a result, the bench struggled against Toronto, going 7-for-20 from the field mostly facing the Raptors second unit.
Chicago hopes for a better result than their last game against the Thunder. They met just once last season due to the lockout, with Oklahoma City prevailing 92-78 behind Durant’s 26 points and 10 rebounds.
Coverage begins at 8 p.m. EDT on TNT, or you can watch their live stream online TNT Overtime here, but submitting your cable provider information.
Betting Odds: Oklahoma City is favored by 3.5 points.
Over/Under: 190 points
Prediction: The Thunder are clicking and may have moved past the Harden trade, while Chicago has shown solidarity and resilience with Rose out. Still Westbrook and Durant should overwhelm the Bulls for a close victory.
Predicted Score: Thunder 100, Chicago 94