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Five Takeaways from an NBA Thursday: Bulls pass first big test of season

Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook

Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook


Usually, Thursday night around the NBA means two or three games, but there were a full five on the docket this week making it a full night. If you were too busy drawing cards to see who would be mayor and didn’t catch the games, here are five things to take away from a Thursday night in the NBA:
1) The Bulls had their first test of will of the Fred Hoiberg era on Thursday, and they passed with flying colors. After a 130-105 shellacking at the hands of the Hornets in Charlotte on Tuesday, the Bulls needed a win to prove they were capable of bouncing back from adversity. They were given an opportunity on a big stage against the Thunder on TNT, and they responded with a 104-98 win to remain undefeated at home.

“We knew coming in they were pretty hot,” Derrick Rose said after the game. “They lost their last two games, and we knew that they wanted this win. When you’re playing against a great offensive team like that, if you’re not playing any defense, they’ll smoke you with the way that they run, the freedom that they have, and just the talent that they have. So we just tried to put bodies in front of them and make it tough.”

Hoiberg made his first starting-lineup shift of the season on Thursday, moving Doug McDermott into the starting unit in place of Tony Snell. That adjustment itself didn’t matter much, but the Bulls played their most balanced game of the season. Rose and Jimmy Butler combined for 55 points, and Joakim Noah looked as good physically as he’s looked all season in 26 minutes.

“We competed really hard,” Noah said. “It was definitely an important win just because of the way we played the other night. We showed good character.”

More importantly, Rose conducted his postgame media session wearing a shirt featuring a much-memed photo of his son, P.J., from last playoffs:

—From Sean Highkin in Chicago

2) Can Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook get a little help here? Oklahoma City has lost three straight, and while it’s far too early to even be locating the panic button, one issue had raised its ugly head — depth. In the loss to the Bulls Thursday, the OKC bench shot 6-of-16 from the floor (37.5 percent), and every bench player was in the negative in +/-. (I hesitate to read too much into single game +/-, but when the entire bench struggles it’s a thing.) There were just 14 minutes when both Durant and Westbrook were not both on the court together Thursday, and OKC was -20 in those minutes. Serge Ibaka is a legit third star on the Thunder, Steven Adams a good defensive center (who had to leave the game early with back issues) but after that things drop off fast. Enes Kanter puts up points (11) but is such a defensive liability he was a -9 in the game, and that’s not a fluke. New coach Billy Donovan has some work to do to find rotations that work and improve the Thunder’s currently 22nd ranked defense — Westbrook and Durant are forces of nature, but they need more help to seriously contend for a title.

3) Dwayne Wade has scored at least 20 points in all four games he’s played this season. Dwyane Wade is looking good. To be fair, he’s looked good the past few years when he gets on the court, the challenge has been keeping his rickety knees on the court for extended periods. There will be rest and maintenance this season. But through four games Wade has scored at least 20 points in each contest (21.5 PPG average), has a very efficient true shooting percentage of .586, a PER of 25.9, is shooting 50 percent on his 2.4 attempts from three a game, and is looking like he has turned back the clock. Thursday night he had 25 as the Heat beat the Timberwolves 96-84 to improve to 3-2 on the season. If Erik Spoelstra can keep him fresh and bring this Wade to the playoffs, Miami is a lot more dangerous.

4) The demise of the Portland Trail Blazers has been greatly exaggerated. I like my crow a la mode. We’re just six games into the young season, but among the predictions I missed this season was I expected Portland to take a huge step back and be one of the worst teams in the West. Instead, they are 4-2 on the young season after a beatdown of Memphis on Thursday night, 115-96. They have done it with the fifth-best offense in the NBA — thanks to Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combining for 49.5 points a night and killing it off the pick-and-roll (especially with pull-up jumpers) — and a solid defense. The young front line of Mason Plumlee and Meyers Leonard has been impressive. We’ll see if this team can maintain a playoff-level pace of wins, but they are going to be better than I and a lot of others thought they would be this season. Portland is not gaming for a lottery spot, this is a team that wants to compete.

5) Al Jefferson is alive and well — and dropping 31 points on the Mavericks. Not everything was puppy dogs and rainbows between Al Jefferson and his coach Steve Clifford for Charlotte Thursday night.

Jefferson used his frustrations as fuel and dropped 31 points on 15-of-18 shooting on Dallas, leading Charlotte to a 108-94 win on the road. In vintage Jefferson fashion he was getting close and finishing — he was 8-of-8 inside three feet.