Bulls host Thunder tonight on CSN

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Bulls host Thunder tonight on CSN

The Chicago Bulls welcome last year's Western Conference champions, the Oklahoma City Thunder, to the United Center tonight as the two teams wind down their respective preseason schedules. Tip-off is 7 p.m., and you can catch all the action live on Comcast SportsNet.
The Bulls missed out on the chance to play against 2012 All-Star Kevin Love in their 92-81 win over the Timberwolves last Friday, and they won't be able to square off against the best young tandem in the NBA, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, either, as both will sit out tonight's exhibition. Thunder coach Scott Brooks said it's just a day of rest for the pair, as Oklahoma City will travel home tomorrow to close out their preseason campaign at home against the Mavericks.
Another budding star in the Oklahoma City lineup is shooting guard James Harden. The 23-year-old reigning Sixth Man of the Year is dealing with a groin injury that has held him out of three preseason contests already, although the Thunder do not feel it will hinder him once the season starts.
Harden most recently competed on the USA National Team at the 2012 Olympics, along with Westbrook and Durant. As part of Team USA's practice routine in Las Vegas, the trio went up against the USA Select Team, which included Bulls' power forward Taj Gibson.
Chicago's improving big man enjoyed his experience and got a feel for just how good he can be as an NBA forward. But Gibson and Harden have more in common than just putting on the Red, White and Blue this past summer. Both are impending restricted free agents, and must sign contract extensions by Oct. 31 to avoid hitting the open market.
Harden, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft and Gibson, the No. 26 overall pick, are reportedly working toward signing before the deadline.
The Thunder are in a tight salary cap crunch after signing Durant (86 million), Westbrook (80 million) and forward Serge Ibaka (48 million) to long-term deals the last two seasons.
The Bulls are also dealing with some financial uncertainty. Gar Forman said earlier this offseason that extending Gibson was a priority, but Carlos Boozer's contract and Luol Deng's uncertain future fog up part of the Bulls' salary cap. Still, CSN Bulls Insider Aggrey Sam expects an extension to be completed before the Oct. 31 deadline.
Gibson will be able to make his case for a payday tonight, going up against one of the better defensive frontcourts in the NBA. Along with Ibaka, the league's leading shot blocker a year ago, Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins will make life difficult for Gibson, Boozer and Joakim Noah in the middle. Last year the Bulls lost to the Thunder in their only matchup, with Gibson (10 points, 11 rebounds) double-doubling in the loss.
Gibson has averaged 8.4 points and 7.8 rebounds in 23.4 minutes this preseason, but is shooting just 36.2 percent from the field. He's made up for that on the defensive end, where a more aggressive Gibson has blocked 11 shots and made five steals in five games.
The Thunder have struggled defensively in the preseason, allowing 100.0 points per game and opponents to shoot almost 45 percent from the field. The Bulls have averaged 88.4 points in their five preseason games, the third lowest mark in the NBA. That average should improve against a Thunder team resting two of its five top players.
In order to do that, the Bulls will need more consistent scoring from the reserves. Nate Robinson, Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Marco Belinelli have combined to shoot 45-of-142 in the preseason (31.7 percent). While Rip Hamilton (51.1 percent) and Nazr Mohammed (51.4 percent) have played well, the Bulls will rely more on their bench this year without Rose to make up that scoring. A solid showing tonight would be a welcome sight.

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After loss to Mavs, Wade says Bulls 'keep putting (their) hand on the hot stove every day'

Dwyane Wade sounded every bit like a frustrated 35-year old father when talking about the repeated ills and so-called growing pains of his Bulls, as they surrendered yet another game against a sub-.500 team.

Sometimes it's the New York Knicks whom the Bulls are offering temporary refuge. Or maybe the Minnesota Timberwolves as they are all-too-generous to roll out the welcome mat for returning figures to Chicago.

Tuesday it was the Dallas Mavericks, the second-worst team in the Western Conference, who stormed into the United Center and escaped with a 99-98 win, courtesy of Wesley Matthews' triple with 11.7 seconds left followed by him locking down Jimmy Butler on the ensuing possession.

Wade was forced to take a contested 21-footer that went awry, but the Bulls' ills went far beyond the last two possessions, when the Mavericks exploited their strategy yet again.

"Either you learn the lesson or figure out," Wade said. "Keep putting your hand on the hot stove every day.

"We just gotta figure out not to put our hands on that stove. And understand when we come in the kitchen, that stove is hot, don't touch it. As I continue to say, this is a very young team and they have to play in these games and have to go through these moments. The one thing you want, whether it's this year or next year, is to not make the same mistakes."

The Bulls are apparently insistent on touching the stove and keep burning themselves, the most recent time with the confusion or the bad strategy in defending the Mavericks' final offensive possession.

Deron Williams found himself with Nikola Mirotic defending him off a switch from Jimmy Butler. Not the quickest afoot, Mirotic gave Williams an easy path to the basket and Wade was the backside help, not wanting to leave Matthews on the wing for a triple.

But with the bench commanding Wade to help, Williams easily found Matthews for an open 3 as Wade had no help for his man. With the Bulls up two, one could see how Wade didn't want to leave Matthews.

"I'll have to go back and watch, but it looks like Deron got downcourt, Wade went over to help and we didn’t rotate accordingly," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We obviously need to do a better job of staying in front of the other end."

Mirotic was supposed to be brought back slowly in his return from strep throat, but he played the entire fourth quarter and 22 minutes overall, having lost eight pounds with his illness that had him miss four games.

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Their issues were game-long and have been seasonlong as the Mavericks were supposed to absorb a shellacking from a Bulls team that felt a 25-point beatdown in Texas last month.

Instead, they would've been happy with settling for an escape when Butler rose up over his college teammate Matthews for a 20-foot wing jumper with 22.8 seconds left.

Butler nearly added a triple-double and clutch moment to his growing resume with 24 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds but was dogged by Matthews all night, the defender who wouldn't give him airspace, went chest-to-chest and even earned a technical foul when he felt Butler exaggerated some contact in the third quarter.

"He took away my space, wouldn't let me get to my spot," Butler said of Matthews. "Good for him. I should've did something different."

Wade missed 13 of his 21 shots, scoring 17 with five rebounds on his 35th birthday

With scoring at a premium, Robin Lopez had a season-high 21 points being guarded by Dirk Nowitzki — and they were necessary considering the Bulls were without Taj Gibson (ankle injury) and Doug McDermott couldn't repeat his 30-point showing from Sunday in Memphis.

Rick Carlisle has long been regarded as one of the top strategic coaches, and though he doesn't have the usual personnel from the Mavericks' salad days, he had enough tricks up his sleeve to throw the Bulls off.

Six Mavericks scored in double figures, led by Harrison Barnes' 20 points and Seth Curry's 18, as Barnes, Matthews and Curry combined for eight triples — spreading the Bulls out and picking them apart defensively.

The Mavericks started Nowitzki at center, going to an almost all-small lineup. And though Lopez scored 14 points in the first half, trying to feed him seemed to take the Bulls out of it in the second half.

The energy was tardy to the party, as they shot just 41 percent in the first half but woke up a little in the third quarter — continuing their all-too familiar trend of half-hearted efforts against lesser teams.

And it looks like the ever-optimistic Wade is dishing out some realism, probably something that comes with the perspective of turning 35.

"You can't keep getting stressed out or frustrated. We've been going through this all year. We'll get back in in the morning.

"Once you realize who you are, you're better off. I sleep better at night. Once we want to be a better team and start winning games, we will. I'm not mad, I'm not frustrated, I'm not stressed. Just taking the hits."