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NSU: CHI VS OKC

Change of plans. Trying to give all those season previews on tonight's match-ups was a little bit too much to chew. Instead I'll take the nationally televised games and do the questions about the team and if they have already played I'll be able to give even better answers to the questions each team had coming into the season. If there are no nationally televised games I'll pick two match-ups of four teams I have yet to write about. Today however isn't going to allow me to get to both televised games so we'll go with the one that has two teams I have yet to touch on.

Tonight's match-up features three players from the USA men's gold medal team. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder will take on Derrick Rose and his Chicago Bulls at 8pm ET on ESPN. The point guard position is going to be a fun individual matchup to watch. Both are rising stars in the league and have a boat load of potential.

The Bulls were one of the teams that were in the running for two of the three players that went to Miami. They started clearing cap space last year by trading away Tyrus Thomas, John Salmons, and Kirk Hinrich (over the summer) to clear cap space for the most anticipated summer in NBA history. The Bulls ended up missing out on all three of the top free agents this past summer. If you watched the Miami game last night it's tough to get acclimated to having another player who is basically the same player as you are just a different position and size. I thought that missing out both LeBron and Wade was a good thing for the Bulls, they already have a player that has a ball in his hands all the time in Derrick Rose.

The Bulls ended up signing Carlos Boozer who will provide the low post offense that has been lacking in Chicago ever since Elton Brand was traded in 2001. They brought along two other players that Boozer played with just last year. Kyle Korver gave them the deep threat they were seeking and Ronnie Brewer is an athletic wing who can defend. The same day they signed Korver they also signed Omer Asik who is a 7-foot center who is extremely raw on the offensive end but can block shots and rebound. About a week later they added back court depth and a viable back up to Derrick Rose at the point with C.J. Watson. A week later they addressed the need for front court help in Kurt Thomas. After missing out on sharp shooter J.J. Reddick the Bulls felt the need to add more back court help and outside shooting. They flirted with Tracy McGrady but he was unwilling to take a backup role which forced the Bulls to look elsewhere. They signed veteran guard Keith Bogans. The Bulls kept their core together while adding pieces they thought would fit better than the role players they already had.

The biggest acquisition the Bulls made this off-season might have been someone that will never leave the bench but to argue bad calls by the officials. The Bulls hired Tom Thibodeau as their head coach. He is known for his tireless game preparation and attention to detail. Most people inside the NBA were surprised it took this long for him to finally get a shot to run his own team.

Like every team in the NBA coming into the season there are still questions about the Bulls. The one that will get answered before the rest is how will this team fare until Carlos Boozer gets back from his broken hand? Tonight will be a good measurement of what to expect from the Bulls without Boozer. They still have second year power forward in Taj Gibson who looks to be the steal of last year's draft. The Boozer injury could actually be a blessing in disguise for the Bulls. It'll get Gibson more game experience and playing time under a new coach. Did the Bulls sign enough outside shooters to keep defenses from clogging the middle? Korver will be the biggest source of outside shooting on the roster but if the preseason was any indication of how Luol Deng will shoot for the year they might have improved that area internally. Deng shot 52% from outside the arc during the preseason on 29 attempts. Rose has been working on his long range game and said he's confident in shooting the long ball but might still need to knock down some early in the season to get teams to respect his outside shot. Rose shot a dismal 24% on 21 attempts. Can the Bulls compete with the upper echelon of the east? They sure do feature one of the most complete teams in the NBA. They now have the inside and outside game. If Thibodeau can get the most out of his team defensively they can make a run at the eastern conference crown.

The Thunder stood pat this off-season besides signing Durant to a five year extension they didn't make any noise. But why mess with a good thing especially when they have arguably the future of the NBA in Durant who is only 22-years-old, Russell Westbrook who is in discussion of one of the great point guards in the league is only 21-years-old and James Harden who is an athletic two who can shoot the ball from beyond the arc and is only 21-years-old. If the Thunder keeps this team together they could cause havoc in the western conference for the next decade and beyond.

The Thunder as good and as young as they are, is this team good enough to overtake the Lakers team who they took to game six last year? This is the biggest question coming into the season for the Thunder. Everyone is anointing Durant as this year's MVP. He was the FIBA World Championship MVP on a stacked USA team. Durant is a far more athletic version of Dirk Nowitski a big man with plenty of range on his jump shot and at 22 years of age he only figures to keep getting better. Last year during the playoff series against the Lakers when Kobe Bryant was guarded by Durant, Kobe was bothered by Durant's length tremendously. He was able to alter his shots and get his hands in the passing lanes. Durant's length made it difficult for Kobe to look over the defense and pick it apart. The Thunder is my favorite to finish second in the western conference behind the Lakers and should have a shot to dethrone the defending champs in the western conference finals.

As far as tonight's game goes, I think not having Boozer is going to hurt the Bulls. They will put up quite the fight but having a Durant at the end of the game will be key as he can hit a shot from just about anywhere on the floor. The Thunder squeeze out the W 101-98.

-Matt Fox

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