Russell Westbrook

Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against Westbrook and the Thunder


Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against Westbrook and the Thunder

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Bulls take on the Indiana Pacers tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live.

1. Getting a re-do: The Bulls' worst loss of the young season at the time came when the Thunder crushed them, 101-69, at the United Center. Now a largely rested Bulls team - one that hasn't played since Saturday - gets a chance to make amends. The last time the Bulls had three days off they played well in a 97-91 road loss to the Heat. With Nikola Mirotic back in practice the Bulls are getting closer to full-strength. Fred Hoiberg has had practice time to get his young squad ready; will it be enough against a West powerhouse?

2. Searching for offense: In last month's loss to the Thunder the Bulls shot a measley 28 percent and had 19 turnovers to just 16 assists. That game is part of the reason the Bulls have the league's worst offensive efficiency. Of course Zach LaVine eventually returning to the lineup will help things, but so could Bobby Portis' strong play since returning, Kris Dunn finding his groove and Lauri Markkanen continuing showing consistency. Better days are ahead for the Bulls offense, but it might not happen easily against a Thunder defense ranked 2nd in efficiency. 

3. Russell Westbrook: If you're tuning in we know you love basketball, and if you love basketball you know that Russell Westbrook is a joy to watch every night. He's having a down year by his standards (he averaged a triple-double last year afterall), averaging 20.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 9.8 assists per game. But you know he's capable any night of doing something you've never seen done on a basketball court. Make sure you're tuning in.

Observations from Bulls-Thunder: Angry Fred, Markkanen disappearance, point guard spot is open

Observations from Bulls-Thunder: Angry Fred, Markkanen disappearance, point guard spot is open

Grand opening, grand closing: This one was over quick in the Bulls' 101-69 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday night at the United Center. It was what you’d expect when a team’s four best starters are the four best players on the floor. The Thunder have the pick of the litter as to who can be their lead dog on a given night. Paul George was the guy who initiated things Saturday, hitting four of five triples and toying with Paul Zipser for 20 points in 28 minutes.

Carmelo Anthony hit five triples of his own to score 21, but it was clear before halftime the Bulls were not going to make this a competitive loss.

An eight-point second quarter did them in, trailing by double digits from the nine-minute mark on, catching the ire of Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg after the Bulls shot 28 percent from the field and 27 percent from 3-point range.

Calling the game a “huge step back” after their win against Atlanta two nights ago, it was the first time the Bulls’ effort came into question this season.

“We didn’t compete. We didn’t stay together, we didn’t fight through adversity as a team. We were careless, we were stagnant,” Hoiberg said. “They got the loose balls. That can’t happen. That cannot happen with this group. It’s very disappointing coming off this encouraging win against Atlanta by doing all the little things. Our body language sucked. Things weren’t going well, we dropped our heads and gave in.”

The Bulls made a slight run in the third, cutting the lead to 50-36 in the opening minute. But it was a 27-point spread six minutes later as the Bulls were both bothered by the long, rangy Thunder defense as well as being their own worst enemy, committing many of their 20 turnovers.

Whether it was overdribbling or not trusting the offense, it got pretty slow pretty frequently.

“It was all on us. Anyone here will tell you, we didn’t compete right from the very beginning,” Bulls center Robin Lopez said. “That’s something we can’t afford in short lapses, let alone an entire 48 minute game.”

Point guard play, M.I.A.: If there’s a true point guard of the future on the roster, it would behoove the Bulls to show himself. Jerian Grant struggled all night, missing all six of his 3-point attempts—many of them wide open.

Kris Dunn’s opportunity is there for the taking, but he didn’t make a contribution until the game was well out of hand. He didn’t look too tentative with his hand injury, attempting to be active defensively, but he wasn’t effective—although one can attribute that to rust.

He finished with eight points and three assists in 22 minutes, and on a late turnover he slipped and hit his finger. Afterward it was wrapped in ice.

“Jammed it a little bit but it’s okay,” Dunn said. “I re-aggravated it. It’s okay. I knew I was gonna be a little rusty but I think what’ll help me is playing hard.”

It led Hoiberg to say the position is open in the next few days of practice before Wednesday’s game against Miami.

“I love to compete. I’m not trying to go for the starting spot but it’s definitely a dream of mine to start for an organization,” Dunn said. “At the same time, I’m trying to get better and help the team.”

But perhaps the most telling or damning of the point guard play was the lack of shots for Lauri Markkanen. With the Bulls offense looking as bad as its looked in the first five games, Markkanen made his first two shots, triples, in the first quarter.

He went almost a full quarter before getting a good look at the basket again and had three shots at the half.

“We didn’t compete at the same level we’ve been competing at the other games,” Markkanen said. “It’s not just about the blowout win for them, it’s how we lost. We didn’t compete.”

On one hand, that’s a lack of recognition from Grant and Dunn, who should want to make Markkanen their best friend on the floor considering how critical he is to the future.

"We missed him on several occasions, he was standing out there by himself. We tried to take extra dribbles," Hoiberg said.

Markkanen finished with 15 points and eight rebounds in 28 minutes.

“I’m doing what’s best for our team. If I’m open, I’ll shoot it. I’ll try to make the right play every time,” Markkanen said.

Russell Westbrook watch: If someone didn’t tell Westbrook the Bulls were the one team he hadn’t recorded a triple-double against, no one would believe it.

It might’ve been his easiest feat in the last two years, with the reigning Most Valuable Player achieving it in 25 minutes before finishing with 12 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists.

He only had to play 28 minutes overall, in the second night of a back to back.

You couldn’t tell by way of fatigue because he was the most active player on the floor, blowing by everyone and creating mismatches downhill for Steven Adams, Anthony and George.

“He has that old school mentality when he plays. He just brings it,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “He plays hard when he’s tired or sore and it’s not just to get a triple-double. He just plays with that mentality.”

Unbrotherly love: Come on, Jerami Grant, did you have to do that to your brother on a night where he didn’t see the ball go in the rim one time?

The Bulls were the last remaining NBA team to get Westbrooked

The Bulls were the last remaining NBA team to get Westbrooked

Mr. Triple-Double can now cross the last NBA team off his list.

Before Saturday, Russell Westbrook had recorded a triple-double against every franchise in the Association except one. The Bulls were the anomaly, until you know, Russ took the United Center floor and did Russ-like things in the teams' first matchup of the season. 

It took the reigning MVP only 25 minutes of uncompetitive basketball to mess around and get a triple-double, his third in six games this season and 82nd of his career. With his 12 points, 13 assists and 13 rebounds, he became the first player in NBA history to record a triple-double against all 29 other teams.

Despite getting Westbrooked in front of their home fans, the Bulls should have a sense of pride in rejecting the dynamic point guard's triple-double bids in the past. In 17 previous meetings, the Bulls have limited -- if you can categorize it as that -- Westbrook to 22.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 7.5 assists. Ridiculous numbers for your average NBA player, but pedestrian for Russ. The Bulls also have a long way to go to catch the Magic, 76ers, Nuggets and Rockets, who have all seen Westbrook post five triple-doubles against them. 

It's clear that Fred Hoiberg has a diligent staff gameplanning to stop Westbrook. But if health allows, a suggestion for the team's next defensive scheme to stop Westbrook could be to throw former teammate and dance partner Cameron Payne on him.

Maybe that will slow him down?