Both the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Chicago Bulls are playing like teams destined to finish the season in the same place — the NBA’s draft lottery, where they would hope to select a player to help bring them into their next eras of success.
But well before they get there, the teams will meet Monday night in Oklahoma City in their first meeting of the season.
The Bulls are coming off a Saturday win over the Los Angeles Clippers, their first win against an above-500 team this season.
“Kind of gets the monkey off our back a little bit,” point guard Kris Dunn told reporters after Saturday’s win. “Got to take this and build momentum to the road trip we have.”
Monday’s game is the first of a four-game road trip for the Bulls that, after Oklahoma City, will see them travel to Washington, Detroit and Orlando.
None of those teams are currently above .500.
“We gotta go in there and we gotta do the same thing,” Dunn said. “You gotta go in there and be tough and you gotta scratch a win out.”
While the Bulls are heading out on a road trip, the Thunder are coming home from a four-game road swing of their own.
The trip started off promising with wins in Portland and Utah, but crashed down with losses at Sacramento and Denver.
“I’m not making any excuses for our guys,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said after Saturday’s loss to the Nuggets. “Four games on the road, I think the drain of these guys pouring as much as they have into it — it was a game we just didn’t shoot the ball well, and when we needed to have our defense be really, really elite in the game, we had some breakdowns, some missed opportunities, some blown coverages, and we couldn’t overcome those things.”
In that loss to Denver, Oklahoma City point guard Chris Paul moved up to No. 8 on the NBA’s all-time steals list, passing Hakeem Olajuwon. Paul has 2,164 career steals.
He’s now 43 steals behind Clyde Drexler for seventh on the list.
“I’m been playing for a while,” Paul said. “Honor, privilege. Trying to catch Mo Cheeks.”
Cheeks, currently a Thunder assistant, had 2,310 career steals, good for fifth.
In eight December games, guard Zach LaVine has averaged 29.75 points per game in Chicago’s four wins and just 18 in its losses.
The Bulls are looking to win back-to-back games for just the second time all season. They have yet to win more than two consecutive games.
“Hopefully we can start stringing some together,” LaVine said.
The Thunder are hoping to avoid their second three-game losing streak of the season.
Oklahoma City will be without Hamidou Diallo for the 11th consecutive game as he recovers from a hyperextended elbow. Terrance Ferguson could miss his sixth consecutive game due to hip soreness.
For Chicago, forward Chandler Hutchison has missed the last nine games with a shoulder sprain. The Bulls have also been without forward Otto Porter since early November as he recovers from a left foot injury. Rookie reserve center Daniel Gafford also missed Saturday’s game with right hamstring tightness.
–Field Level Media