OKLAHOMA CITY—Coming off Wednesday’s 109-94 loss in Houston, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau knows his team will face a similarly offensively explosive bunch in the Thunder.
“You’re faced with the same type of challenge. You’ve got guys who will break you down off the dribble. They could turn you over, and then get into the open floor. They can hurt you there. [Kevin] Durant is a tough guy to challenge because they can score so many different ways and the one thing; they’re playing very unselfishly, so they move the ball well. [Serge] Ibaka’s a very underrated guy. They’ve got guys who are doing their jobs. [Kendrick] Perkins is a tough guy inside; [Nick] Collison’s a guy that just makes their team function well. [Reggie] Jackson is a rising young player that’s terrific. [Russell] Westbrook is Westbrook, Durant’s Durant. Their record pretty much says who they are.”
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Thibodeau added about Westbrook, an All-Star point guard—as well as the friend and offseason workout partner of Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, a comparably explosive athlete when healthy—“His explosiveness looks good again,” after offseason surgery to repair his meniscus following a first-round playoff knee injury last spring.
Augustin continues to adjust, has semi-homecoming
Thibodeau has been increasingly pleased with the play of new acquisition D.J. Augustin, who had eight points and nine assists against the Rockets, showcasing his playmaking ability in his first Bulls start.
“He looks for his shot when he’s open. When he’s not, he makes a good play. I think he understands that. Defensively, I still think he has a long way to go, but overall, I think he’s doing well,” Thibodeau explained. “I think each day he’s gotten more comfortable. He’s a work in progress. Right now there’s a lot of parts, but he’s diligent. I thought he made a lot of good plays.”
For Augustin, the trip to Houston had more significance than a typical NBA game. The New Orleans native lived in Sugarland, Texas, a suburb of Houston, during his senior year of high school, due the effect of Hurricane Katrina.
“I loved [Houston]. Houston is different from New Orleans, so it gave us an opportunity to do different things in our life as a family, so I loved it here and actually, I loved it so much, I made it my home in the offseason,” Augustin, who was an All-American at the University of Texas, told CSNChicago.com.
“It was tough, man,” he went on to explain about the ordeal of the hurricane and its aftereffects. “Just having to uproot your family, losing everything. Starting over pretty much, starting a new life, especially because I was in high school. so it was tough for myself and my family, but we stayed together, we stayed strong and we made it through it.”
Gibson playing through pain
Bulls top reserve Taj Gibson suffered a right-hand injury during last week’s loss in New York, which can partially explain his recent statistical downturn after such a hot start to the season and very evident improvement of his offensive game. The big man was icing the injury, which looked inflamed, after Wednesday’s setback.
“It was just a real bad bruise,” he said. “I just keep trying to make my way through it.”
But the injury shouldn’t hamper him defensively, the area Gibson believes the Bulls will have to make some key adjustments to keep pace with the Thunder, one of the NBA’s upper-echelon teams.
“We’re going to have to talk a little bit better. Our guards are going to have to fight through a lot of screens. It’s going to be a battle,” he explained. “It’s going to be one on the boards, and talking on defense and helping each other, and being supportive on the court. It seems like our defense kind of lacks the talking and support we normally have.”
Butler finds groove back in Texas
Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler, who had been struggling in his return to the lineup after a nearly one-month absence due to a right turf-toe injury, scored 20 points in Houston, the closest NBA city to his hometown of Tomball, Tex. The third-year player believes he’s found his rhythm again
"Yeah, definitely so,” he said. “I wish we would have won, though. But I’m finally getting back in the groove of things. But it’s all about confidence. I just want things to turn around for us.”
Even though it was a loss, Butler feels the Bulls can take some positives from the Rockets’ defeat.
“Just how hard you’ve got to play and how you’ve got to execute, get back on defense and just guard as a whole,” he said. “I feel like when we get back to guarding, not worrying about offense, I think it’ll turn around.”
Chicago native burned Bulls
Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley—the player who supposedly caused Westbrook’s aforementioned knee injury last postseason—scored 15 points and played his typically harassing defense against the Bulls.
The West Side native and Marshall High School graduate—his senior year of high school, he lost to Rose’s Simeon team in the Illinois state playoffs—has been in Bulls’ mini-camps multiple times, most recently in 2012, though he never earned a training-camp invitation.
“I was trying to be aggressive tonight,” he said. “I don't know what was wrong with me but I tried to be aggressive on offense today, tried to make some plays, especially when James was out and I was able to get some easy buckets.”
Thibodeau would only say of Beverley—who was drafted by Miami in 2009, but toiled overseas in Europe until the middle of last season, when the Rockets signed him and he eventually took over the starting point-guard job, usurping Jeremy Lin—“He’s a good player. He’s a hard-playing guy.”