The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Thunder

The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Thunder

Monday, Dec. 6, 2010
3:55 PM

By Aggrey SamCSNChicago.com

1. As valuable as Westbrook and Durant are to the Thunder, underrated power forward Jeff Green's contributions can't be ignored. The most-overlooked (and oldest, at the old age of 24) member of Oklahoma City's "Big Three," the fourth-year Georgetown product, acquired on the draft-day deal that sent Ray Allen to Boston, is averaging 18.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game in 14 games--he missed seven contests with an ankle injury--on the season. Green, who was cut from the USA Basketball squad his aforementioned teammates played on in the offseason, wasn't among the class of 2007 players who received a contract extension--Durant, Bulls center Joakim Noah, Atlanta's Al Horford, Memphis point guard Mike Conley and Phoenix reserve Jared Dudley were the only five players who did--this fall. It can be argued that since Green isn't a true post player and doesn't rebound exceptionally well for his position, it's wise for the Thunder to let him test the free-agent market, especially with likely changes to the league's Collective Bargaining Agreement, as well as the fact that they can match competing offers for him. However, while it's easy to say Oklahoma City would be better off with a true low-post anchor, Green's versatility--he has 3-point range, can guard multiple positions and handles and passes the ball like a small forward--might work best for the Thunder, as his ability to step out gives Durant space to operate and frees up driving lanes for Westbrook. On top of that, the undeniable chemistry of the trio--Green's known Durant since they were children in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.--and the young team as a whole could be significantly altered without Green, whose athleticism and understated style seem like a perfect fit.

2. Thunder big man Serge Ibaka has made huge strides in his second season. Oklahoma City's best interior defensive presence, Ibaka is one of the most athletic big men in the league, as evidenced by his 2.2 blocks per game in only 27.4 minutes a night. However, while a still a bit raw offensively, the native of the Congo (via Spain, where he played professionally before coming to the NBA) has developed as a scorer, averaging 11 points per game to go with his 6.7 rebounds an outing. The young team's fast-paced transition game and Ibaka's willingness to do the dirty work make him an excellent complement to Durant, Westbrook and Green, as the high-energy 21-year-old doesn't need the ball to be effective and battles opposing post players in the trenches, despite often giving up both weight and height in the matchups.

3. Much has been made of the Thunder's contract extension for backup big man Nick Collison. Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti, considered one of the more astute executives in the NBA, structured the deal so that Collison saw a big bump in his salary this season--giving him the 6.5 million the team had under the salary cap, according to reports, so that he's now making over 13 million this season--while making much lower, de-escalating totals for the final four years of the deal. The veteran, known for his rugged defense, is important to the young team as a role-playing glue guy, but also is a valuable locker-room presence.

4. So far this season, the Thunder have an improbable three one-point victories--and a sole loss by a lone point--and two overtime wins, including a triple-overtime triumph over New Jersey on the first of this month. Although it's not ideal to have so many close calls, the fact that the youthful squad has shown the poise--perhaps first showcased in that first-round playoff series lost to the Lakers last spring, after which their passionate home fans gave them a standing ovation--to be victorious in the clutch is a good omen--and a scary one for Western Conference foes.

5. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter at @CSNBullsInsider.

Five Things to Watch: Bulls try to snap skid against Spurs on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls try to snap skid against Spurs on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Spurs tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com, the only place where you can get the hometown call from Neil and Stacey.

Coverage begins at 8 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Attempting to end perfection. The Spurs have been absolutely electric outside of San Antonio this season, winning each of their first 13 road games to begin the year. That's the second longest streak in NBA history, and the Bulls have actually lost two of three at home. The Bulls will be home underdogs as the Spurs look to make it 14 in a row. The good news is the Bulls have defeated the Spurs at home each of the last two seasons.

2. Battle of the two-way studs. There's a real argument to be made that Thursday's matchup will tout the two best two-way players in the NBA. Kawhi Leonard, the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is having his best offensive season to date, averaging 24.5 points on 46 percent shooting, 1.9 triples, and averaging nearly 91 percent from the free-throw line. Expect Jimmy Butler and Leonard to be on each other's rear most of the night in what should be one of the most fun 1-on-1 matchups in the NBA.

3. Questions at the point. For the Spurs, Tony Parker is questionable to play with a knee injury. If he can't go, it would be Nico Laprovittola and Patty Mills running the point. For the Bulls, Rajon Rondo is coming off a pair of ugly performances in Bulls' losses to the Mavericks and Pistons (and his suspension against the Blazers). Someone needs to step up at the point, and it could decide Thursday night's winner.

4. Pau returns to the UC. Though it didn't result in much success, Pau Gasol enjoyed two highly successful seasons in Chicago. The stat-stuffer was named an All-Star in both seasons, averaging 17.6 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 150 games. He's now in San Antonio, filling Tim Duncan's role in the starting lineup. And though his numvers are down from a year ago, he's still capable of putting up numbers, especially against a Bulls' interior that has struggled of late.

5. Getting Doug McDermott back. Dougie McBuckets has been activated to the Bulls roster, and not a moment too soon. Since McDermott suffered a concussion on Nov. 12, the Bulls bench ranks 26th in 3-pointers per game (2.5) and 30th in 3-point field-goal percentage (23.5 percent). Getting McDermott back, even in a small role as he gets his legs under him, will be a major factor against a Spurs team whose offense continues to heat up in December.

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Bulls: Rajon Rondo calls incident with assistant coach 'part of the game'

Bulls: Rajon Rondo calls incident with assistant coach 'part of the game'

AUBURN HILLS, MICH—Rajon Rondo almost made it to the quarter mark of the season without incident, but his frustrations got the better of him in Dallas last weekend in a situation with Bulls assistant coach Jim Boylen.

He returned from his one-game suspension in a light mood, but didn’t take things lightly when addressing questions from the media after the Bulls’ 102-91 loss to Detroit.

Rondo admitted that he feels so strongly about things that he doesn’t let them go as easily as he should, which could have been the case with Boylen. Rondo threw a towel after an exchange with Boylen during the Bulls’ blowout loss to the Mavericks.

“That’s a good way to put it. Me as a player, a point guard, I have to handle a situation better,” Rondo said. “But when I feel a certain way, I’m gonna speak on it. My whole thing is always for the betterment of the team.

“If it comes off wrong or a certain way I’ll try to work on that. But for the most part I’m not a selfish individual, I try to do what’s best for the team, try to watch film with my teammates. That’s just part of the game, who I am.”

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When asked if he actually threw a towel at Boylen, Rondo quipped, “You gotta look at the film,” and tried to downplay the situation as best he could, noting the timing of the event in question.

He apologized to the coaching staff and his teammates and believes there won’t be lasting effects, although the Bulls are in the midst of a three-game losing streak.

“Hopefully it’ll be the last three-game losing streak,” Rondo said. “It’s about how you handle adversity. We usually handle it well as far as bouncing back.”

Calling the incident “part of the game,” Rondo didn’t want to address specifics but given his history of instances such as these in Boston, Dallas and Sacramento, this one makes it a little harder to shake the reputation of being difficult to deal with.

“I have a good relationship with my team and I take pride in being a great teammate,” Rondo said. “I think we’re still on the same page. When you lose, things get blown out of proportion. When you win, it covers everything up. So we have to get back to winning basketball.”

His teammates have been supportive both behind the scenes and publicly, and were happy to have him back despite not being able to quell the losing streak.

“It was good. That's our starting point guard. We need veteran guys on this team,” Bulls guard Dwyane Wade said. “We need our bodies. He's our leader today so when we got down early he was the one who kept talking to us defensively. He's so smart out there on the floor, takes certain things away, get out in open transition. The reason we got back in the game, he did a good job of leading us in those moments.”