While fans across the country are surely looking forward to seeing how the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder stack up to the NBA-leading Chicago Bulls, this weekend's matchup may not tell the whole story with the league's reigning MVP out of commission again.
The Bulls could have a hard time achieving their longest road winning streak in more than 16 years Sunday against the surging Thunder, as Derrick Rose is expected to miss his 10th straight game.
Chicago (42-11) improved to 17-3 over its last 20 games and 14-5 without Rose in the lineup by beating Detroit 83-71 at home Friday. Rose has missed nearly three weeks with a strained right groin and wants to make sure he's fully healed before returning - even with this much-anticipated showdown looming.
"All I can do is just stay positive (and) try to get my teammates up and just try to (get) well," said Rose, averaging a team-high 22.8 points. "It's hard, but at the same time, I'm happy that they're playing great and we're winning games. Of course I wanna be out there, I hate being injured, but right now we're in a good groove."
While Chicago has certainly held its own without Rose, he could be missed in this one. Rose has averaged 26.3 points in three career visits to Oklahoma City (39-12), leading the Bulls to two wins.
Chicago has won 12 of its last 13 road games overall, including seven in a row by an average of 13.4 points. The Bulls haven't won eight straight in opposing arenas since Michael Jordan led them on a nine-game run Jan. 4-Feb. 2, 1996. Another road victory could be hard to come by against the Thunder, who own the league's second-best home record at 22-4.
After going a lackluster 5-5 from March 3-20, Oklahoma City has outscored opponents by an average of 14.2 points during a five-game winning streak.
"We're on a nice streak right now, we're playing good basketball," coach Scott Brooks said. "But we can't rest and we can't feel good about ourselves because that's when you get hit pretty hard and then you get frustrated."
Two nights after beating Portland 109-95, the Thunder concluded a two-game road trip Thursday with a 102-93 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. Russell Westbrook scored 36 points while Kevin Durant added 21 and 11 rebounds for Oklahoma City, which limited the Lakers to 41.7 percent shooting from the field.
"We got two tough road wins - one in Portland and one here. Now we get to go back home for two big games (against Chicago and Memphis), so it's great," said Westbrook, averaging 31.5 points over his last four contests.
Though the Thunder won't have to worry about slowing down Rose, they know putting points on the board against Chicago won't be easy. The Bulls, whose average of 88.5 points allowed ranks second in the league, have surrendered just 82.6 per game over their last seven.
"They are one of the hardest playing teams in basketball on both ends of the floor, you will see that (Sunday)," Brooks said. "Defensively, they get after you, they touch you, they hold you, they make you work for every point ... that's why they win, that's why they're in every game."
Richard Hamilton is listed as a game-time decision for Chicago after missing the last 13 contests with a sprained right shoulder. Hamilton has averaged 11.3 points - his fewest since averaging 9.0 as a rookie for Washington in 1999-2000 - while appearing in just 16 games due to a slew of injuries.
Sunday marks the only regular-season meeting between the Bulls and Thunder, who have split the last six matchups in the series.