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 visit Bucks in final regular season meeting on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls visit Bucks in final regular season meeting on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Toronto Raptors tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 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. Can the Bulls get one on the Bucks? The Bulls are 0-3 against the Bucks so far this season and it hasn't been pretty. The Bucks have won the previous three meetings all by double digits and by an average of 19 points. The youth and athleticism of the Bucks has been a tough matchup for the Bulls so far.

2. Containing Giannis. There may be no stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Bulls can at least try to contain him. Antetokounmpo is averaging 23 points and nearly nine rebounds per game. In three games against the Bulls this year he has averaged 29 points, 10 rebounds and 7.3 assists per contest. If the Bulls are to stay in the game, they will need to keep him to numbers lower than that.

3. Playoff implications. The Bulls playoff hopes are still alive with nine games remaining, but things are looking a bit bleak. The Bulls are a game and a half out of the eighth playoff spot, but only 3.5 games behind two teams tied for the No. 5 seed, the Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks. The Bucks have won three in a row to improve their position.

4. Mirotic on a roll. Streaky play is nothing new to Nikola Mirotic, but he's on a good run currently. After scoring a season-high 28 points on Wednesday against the Pistons, Mirotic followed that up with 15 points against the 76ers. Since missing three straight games earlier this month, Mirotic has scored in double figures in five of the last seven games and is averaging 15.6 points during that stretch.

5. Beginning of a tough stretch. The Bulls' playoff hopes could be made or broken in the next three games. After taking on the Bucks, which occupy a playoff spot, the Bulls host two more Eastern Conference playoff teams in Cleveland and Atlanta. The Bulls need to string some wins together and this is not an easy stretch to do so against.

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you're ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Bulls: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Bulls fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Bulls Pulse

Former Bulls center Joakim Noah suspended 20 games for violating NBA's anti-drug policy

Former Bulls center Joakim Noah suspended 20 games for violating NBA's anti-drug policy

The NBA announced Saturday that it has suspended former Bulls and current Knicks center Joakim Noah for 20 games without pay for violating the league's anti-drug policy.

He tested positive for an over-the-counter supplement called selective androgen receptor modulator LGD-4033, which is prohibited under the current collective bargaining agreement but would not have been under the new CBA starting next year, according to ESPN's Marc Spears.

It was announced in February that Noah would miss the remainder of the season with a left knee injury. His suspension will carry over into the 2017-18 campaign with only 10 games left this year.

Noah averaged 5.0 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game in 46 games in his first of a four-year, $72 million contract with the Knicks.