Even with a red-hot Joakim Noah, the Chicago Bulls might have a considerable challenge as they attempt to end their longest homestand of the season with a third consecutive win.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, though, have also struggled to win most of their recent road games despite Kevin Durant’s high-scoring efforts and are heading into Monday night’s game at the United Center after a lopsided home defeat.
Chicago (37-29) has registered back-to-back wins on its six-game homestand after losing two of the first three contests, and Noah has nearly recorded triple-doubles in each victory. He finished one assist shy in a 111-87 rout of Houston on Thursday and two short in a 94-87 win over Sacramento on Saturday.
"First thing is his game is through the roof right now. His confidence is through the roof," forward Taj Gibson said after Noah had 23 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and five blocks.
Noah’s efforts have helped the Bulls get within a half-game of Toronto for third place in the Eastern Conference. A win Monday would put Chicago percentage points behind the idle Raptors.
The Bulls, winners in 13 of 17, will face a Thunder team that’s second in the West, but has lost four of six on the road and is on the verge of matching its three-game skid there Jan. 7-14. They also had a two-game overall win streak snapped with a 109-86 drubbing to Dallas on Sunday.
Oklahoma City (48-18) had one of its worst shooting performance this season in that defeat (36.7 percent) and also wasn’t helped by Russell Westbrook’s absence. The point guard was sitting out to rest his surgically repaired knee but is expected to return Monday.
The Thunder have also played this month with two other starters missing, former Bulls guard Thabo Sefolosha (calf) and center Kendrick Perkins (groin).
"There is no excuse," Durant said. "We’ve got to figure it out. We’ve each got to do it. We’re pros. … We’ve got to act like we care. It will be all right. We’ve got another (game) tomorrow."
Westbrook, averaging 27.3 points in his last four games, had 20 points and 10 assists in a 107-95 home win over Chicago on Dec. 19. Durant scored a game-best 32 in that victory and had 30 in Sunday’s loss, his 31st consecutive game with 25 points or more.
That streak is the longest since Bulls legend Michael Jordan had a 40-game run in 1986-87. Durant has scored 25 or more points in three of his last four games in Chicago and just missed in the most recent visit on Nov. 8, 2012, with 24 points.
"This homestand doesn’t get any easier," Gibson said. "We’ve just got to be prepared with whatever comes our way."
Noah had a team-high 23 points and 12 rebounds in Chicago’s fourth consecutive loss to Oklahoma City in December. The Bulls have dropped three of the last four home meetings.
Chicago has shot a combined 35.2 percent in its last four matchups while the Thunder have shot 48.7 percent. They made 51.2 percent of their shots in the win in December, and the Bulls converted at just a 37.7 percent clip.