OKLAHOMA CITY — No team in the NBA has as many drama birds circling over their heads as do the Chicago Bulls. For a week, they were the poster child for discontent in the league.
From Rajon Rondo to Dwyane Wade to Jimmy Butler, the Bulls were embroiled in controversy and dueling back and forth in the media and in the locker rooms.
It’s obviously not the environment Wade signed up for when he left the Miami Heat in the offseason after 13 years.
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But Chicago is hoping to put all of that behind and capitalize on what continues to be a somewhat weak Eastern Conference. Despite all of the turmoil, the Bulls are still one of the more talented teams in the conference.
“If you go out and give honest effort every single night, you are going to give yourselves a chance,” Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg told NBA.com. “Not to say we are going to win every game, but we’re going to be there and that’s what this group has to do.”
After a week of sniping and players calling out teammates, the Bulls (24-25) ended a two-game losing streak on Sunday by defeating the surging Philadelphia 76ers 121-108.
“Nothing needs to be repaired,” Wade told NBA.com. “Yeah, we’re fine. We come in to play basketball and compete, and we’ve done a good job of that the last few days, with the exception of the Heat game when we laid a dud. But the last few days have been great competition, so we move on from there.”
The Bulls kick off February with a six-game road trip. It starts in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night where they face a player in the midst of an historic season. Russell Westbrook ended January averaging 30.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.2 assists per night.
“We’re obviously going to have to do a much better job of finding them in transition,” Hoiberg told NBA.com. “They killed us in the paint the last game. A guy having an historic NBA season averaging a triple-double; we are going to have our hands full.”
While the Bulls are just starting a long road trip, the Thunder (28-21) ended what seemed like a month full of games away from home. Their loss in San Antonio on Tuesday night was their 12th game outside of Oklahoma City. They finished the month with a 7-8 record.
Two of the losses came in their last two outings of the month in Cleveland and in San Antonio. Both were also without center Enes Kanter, who has a fractured right arm and will be out a few weeks at the least.
Oklahoma City could also be without Alex Abrines, who left Tuesday night’s game with back spasms.
Thunder coach Billy Donovan now has to fight the temptation to play Westbrook more to make up for the losses to his bench.
“Obviously with a guy like Russell Westbrook, the best thing for him and our team is for him to play 40 minutes,” Donovan joked. “But that’s not fair to him, it’s not fair to his career. It’s not even fair to our team if we’re trying to evolve into being a very good team.”