East meets West: Bulls @ Thunder

By Jason Fryer

What a great matchup on Sunday between the teams that feature the best records in both the Eastern and Western Conference: The Chicago Bulls @ The Oklahoma City Thunder. If Derrick Rose is fully healthy (a big if as it looks like he won’t play on Sunday), this would be a matchup that would feature the 2011 NBA MVP (Rose) against the 2-time reigning scoring champion (Durant), and a possible NBA Finals matchup. With this heavyweight matchup on Sunday in Oklahoma City, I want to analyze the two different rosters and give an edge to each category listed below.

Starting Lineups:

Guards: Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton (Yes, I’m pretending both Rip and Derrick will play even though I don’t see Rose playing on Sunday) vs. Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha. Had James Harden been apart of the Thunder starting back court, I would have placed this as either a tie or gave the Thunder a slight edge. As for this head-to-head matchup, I feel Russell Westbrook is a top 5 point guard (I listed him as my 4th best point guard currently in the NBA) and feel former Bull Thabo Sefolosha is a good defender along with being a solid three-point shooter; however, Derrick Rose is a top 5 player (and the MVP) and Rip Hamilton has won a NBA Championship. If both players are healthy (and playing at a high level), the Bulls will feature one of the best back courts in the NBA.

Edge: Chicago Bulls

Forwards: Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer vs. Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka:Luol Deng has had a tremendous year while playing with a broken wrist (2011 All-Star, Great Defender, and is shooting a respectable 39.5% from beyond the arch) and as much as he’s been criticized, only one Bull has been in the starting lineup for every game this year: Carlos Boozer. Boozer has preformed better this year (even though statistically he’s having a worse season this season than he had last season with the Bulls). As for the Thunder, they feature the 2-time defending scoring champion and in my opinion the 2012 MVP in Kevin Durant alongside the league leader in blocks per game (with over 3) this year in Serge Ibaka. This combination has to be in the top 3 as the best small-forward/power-forward combination’s currently in the NBA and with both of these players so young (Durant 23 and Ibaka 22), this could go down as one of the best 3-4 combination’s of all time.

Carlos Boozer
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau is talking to Carlos Boozer (right) in Atlanta Hawks 100-88 victory over the Chicago Bulls in Eastern Conference Semi Finals Game 4 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, GA.

Edge: Oklahoma City Thunder

Centers: Joakim Noah vs. Kendrick Perkins: Once again, this is another great matchup between one of the most athletic big men in the league (Noah), against a center that helps provide more toughness and smarts to a young Thunder team (Perkins). Joakim Noah’s got off to a difficult start to the season (scoring in double digits in only 4 of his first 18 games) but has since picked up the pace and has been playing much better as of late. Perkins on the other hand has had one of his worst statistical season (scoring the lowest amount of points of his career since his second season and is having one of his worst rebounding seasons), but is still a great leader to this young Thunder team. The Thunder needed a player like Perkins to help with their locker-room and make them a much more veteran savvy roster when the playoffs begin. Both players bring great intangibles to their respected teams and are great players to have on your team.

Kendrick Perkins
Center Kendrick Perkins of the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of the Thunder's 102-93 victory over the Lakers at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA.

Edge: Chicago Bulls

Bench: C.J. Watson, John Lucas III, Ronnie Brewer, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson, Brian Scalabrine, Omer Asik vs. Derek Fisher, Royal Ivey, Reggie Jackson, James Harden, Daequan Cook, Lazar Hayward, Nick Collison, Nazr Mohammed, Cole Aldrich: Both rosters feature two of the best benches in the league. One is highlighted by the their depth (Watson, Brewer, Korver, Gibson, Asik) and the other has great star power along with good role players (Harden, Collison, Mohammed). This is a tough decision as both benches are very capable of not just holding a lead, but also extending the lead and putting the game out of reach. In the end its depth and defense against instant offense and solid role players.

Edge: Oklahoma City Thunder

Coach: Tom Thibodeau vs. Scott Brooks: The last two Coach Of The Year Winners (Brooks in 2010 and Thibodeau in 2011) are both arguable doing a better job in 2012 than they did the year each coach won the award. For Thibodeau, in 2011 he had to deal with the Bulls missing their starting front court for most of the year and in 2012 he’s had to deal with the team missing there starting front court for a good potion of the year. To Thibs credit, he hasn’t allowed the Bulls to miss a step as even with the MVP missing 18 games (going 13-5 in those games) Chicago still features the best record in the NBA with a 41-11 mark. As for Brooks and the Thunder, they’ve progressed ever year from a team with a great foundation (2009), to a playoff team (2010 lost to LA in 6), to a contender (lost 4-1 in the Western Conference Finals), to having the second best record in the NBA (39-12) and now the favorite to win the Western Conference. The progression that the players on the Thunder roster have made during this span has been tremendous and has made the Thunder a legitimate contender for the next decade plus.

Edge: Chicago Bulls

When both rosters are fully healthy, I feel the Bulls have a very slight edge on Oklahoma City, however, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the two teams play (when everyone is healthy) and the Thunder come out on top. This should form into one of the best NBA rivalries for the next decade with the major players involved (Rose, Durant, Deng, Westbrook, Noah, Ibaka) all at or below 27.

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