The Oklahoma City Thunder are in Chicago to take on the Bulls to kicked off a four-game road swing. The Thunder will still be shorthanded in this game, as they have been for the entire second half of the season. George Hill (thumb), Josh Hall (knee), Trevor Ariza (Not with the team), Darius Bazley (Shoulder), and Al Horford (rest) are all listed as out for tonight’s game. Lu Dort, who is dealing with a toe sprain, is listed as questionable.
This is not the front end of a back-to-back, Al Horford was out Sunday against Memphis for rest, and is now out again for the same reason despite coming fresh off the week-long All-Star break. This has raised the eyebrows of many Thunder fans, could this signal a trade? Is Al Horford going to fall trend to the rest of the NBA, like Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Drummond, and the like? The recent trend of shutting down a player until you find a trade partner with the NBA Trade deadline looming on March 25th? No, I do not think that is what is happening here. OKC is not the type of organization to make a statement or announcement like that.
What this clearly is though, is a move to “bench” a veteran without “showing up” a veteran. Mark Daigneault and Sam Presti would rather get a look at Moses Brown and other young players instead of Horford, so just simply list the veteran as out. As a result, this makes the team worse but does give young guys minutes. This story will be updated once we hear from Mark Daigneault pregame, but I expect nothing to come from this decision publicly.
Svi Mykhailiuk is not listed on the Injury report, and the Oklahoma City Thunder have posted photos of the newly acquired guard at shoot around today, so it seems as though the 23-year-old will make his Thunder debut tonight against the Bulls.
With Darius Bazley still listed as out, it is a safe assumption to make that Aleksej Pokusevski will be back in the starting five for the fourth time in his career tonight against the Thunder, this story will be updated with the official starting five as well as on Twitter. Poku had the best game of his career on Sunday and will look to become a consistent player in his rookie season with tonight’s game. It is important to note that if the recently turned 19-year-old, the youngest player in the NBA, does have a poor game that it is perfectly okay. This is about the long game with the 2020 first-round pick.
Since the All-Star break, the Thunder’s quest to tank has gone about the same as it did prior to the All-Star break. Despite playing with nine players, missing three to four starters at a time, and playing teams on paper that should beat them, the team is 2-1 with wins over Memphis and a Luka-less, KP-less Mavs squad. Now, they take on a Bulls team that is 5-5 in their last ten games.
In this game, the Bulls will only miss Garrett Temple in this game, the rare time a Thunder opponent is as close to fully healthy as possible. The Bulls of course are led by first-year Bulls head coach Billy Donovan who was at the helm of the Thunder prior to this gig. Donovan and Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault go way back, Mark Daigneault not only coached the Blue during Donovan’s OKC tenure, but was on Donovan’s NBA staff last year.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are 6.5-point underdogs against the Bulls tonight, and I will take OKC +6.5, the Moneyball pick of the day is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to lead the team in three-pointers made.
UPDATE AFTER Mark Daigneault SPOKE WITH THE MEDIA PREGAME:
OKC Thunder starters: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Theo Maledon, Aleksej Pokusevski, Isaiah Roby, and Moses Brown per Mark Daigneault.
Mark Daigneault also says Svi Mykhailiuk is available but not “in the set rotation” this does not mean he will not play, but it does make it unlikely.