Thunder-Bulls Preview

The Associated Press

The Chicago Bulls are off to a solid start despite the absence of injured star Derrick Rose.

Even with a healthy roster, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been inconsistent out of the gate.

The two perennial NBA powers each look to build on victories Thursday night when they meet at the United Center.

A torn ACL has Rose out until at least after the All-Star break, but his Chicago teammates are poised to succeed without him. The Bulls (3-1) rebounded from Saturday's 89-82 home loss to New Orleans with a 99-93 victory over previously undefeated Orlando on Tuesday. Luol Deng scored 15 of his 23 points in the second half while Joakim Noah added 20, nine rebounds and five blocks as Chicago used a 15-2 second-half surge to erase a five-point deficit.

"(Winning is) all that counts, but we need to play better,'' said Noah, who is averaging team highs of 16.0 points and 8.8 boards. "This isn't going to cut it against a better team. We've just got to keep fighting."

While the Bulls struggle to score at times, they remain one of the NBA's top defensive teams allowing 88.8 points per contest. They'll certainly need to be at their defensive best again Thursday even though Oklahoma City (2-2) has been inconsistent at the offensive end.

The Thunder averaged 103.1 points and shot 47.1 percent last season en route to winning the Western Conference, but are putting up 98.3 and making 45.6 percent of their shots through four games.

Oklahoma City should have some momentum after it bolted to a 30-17 first-quarter lead then rolled to a 108-88 win over Toronto on Tuesday. Russell Westbrook shook off a sore shoulder to score 19 points and dish out eight assists while Serge Ibaka added 17 points and Kevin Durant and Kevin Martin each had 15.

It was a much better effort than Sunday when Oklahoma City allowed 31 points off 21 turnovers in a 104-95 home loss to Atlanta. The Thunder turned the ball over 19 times Tuesday but dominated defensively, holding the visiting Raptors to 35.7 percent shooting.

"I thought the start was a big part of our win,'' coach Scott Brooks said. "We've talked about this the last few days. We're just starting to get in a defensive mindset.''

Brooks also was able to rest some of his stars in advance of Thursday's matchup.

"You need nights like that in the NBA,'' Martin said. "You're not going to be able to beat teams with three guys."

Martin has averaged 19.3 points off the bench after being acquired right before the start of the season in a trade that sent 2012 NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden to Houston.

Westbrook and Durant, both averaging 20.8 points, remain the backbone of a Thunder team that hits the road for the second time. They lost 86-84 at San Antonio to open the season.

Westbrook scored 27 points and Durant added 26 with 10 rebounds in the Thunder's 92-78 home win over a Chicago team without Rose on April 1. The frontcourt of Noah, Deng and Carlos Boozer were held to 21 points as the Bulls shot a season-low 33.0 percent.

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