OKLAHOMA CITY -- Add Russell Westbrook to those who speculate Derrick Rose will return on his surgically-repaired left knee sometime this season.
"I see that he's getting better," the Thunder's All-Star point guard said. "He's almost close to coming back."
Then again, Westbrook said he hasn't talked much lately with his summer workout partner. So as with most things regarding Rose, who knows?
This is for sure: The Bulls offense, dead on arrival Sunday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, could use him badly. Posting season lows for shooting percentage, field goals and assists, the Bulls meekly fell 102-72 to the Thunder.
The Bulls also lost Taj Gibson to a sprained left knee in the fourth quarter. He will undergo further testing on Monday in Chicago.
That's three times in the last five games that the Bulls have failed to crack 73 points. The Bulls needed a late rush to avoid the franchise record of 23.4 percent shooting, set during the franchise-low, 49-point debacle against the Heat on April 10, 1999.
As it was, they shot 29.1 percent with 14 assists and 25 field goals. In fact, the Bulls' offensive highlight was Rose working himself into a lather during his pregame workout, including several dunks.
Too bad that didn't culminate in a juicy Westbrook-Rose matchup.
Though the Bulls have fared admirably much of this season without their star, they have struggled of late against stars. More specifically, they have fared poorly trying to defend elite teams. In the previous eight games before Sunday, the Bulls allowed the Pacers, Nuggets, Spurs and Heat all to shoot 50 percent or better, including an opponent season-high 58.1 by the Nuggets.
The Bulls actually defended Kevin Durant well. The league's leading scorer managed 19 points on just 6-for-19 shooting but grabbed 16 rebounds.
Westbrook had 23 points and Serge Ibaka's double-double featured 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Plus, the Thunder aren't just Durant and Westbrook. Even after trading away James Harden, they feature an explosive third scorer in Kevin Martin and role players in abundance. That includes former Bull Thabo Sefolosha, who is shooting 41.3 percent on 3-pointers and scored 11.
That's a far cry from Sefolosha's 33 percent mark during his two-plus seasons in Chicago.
"It says a lot about the way he's worked on his game. He continually gets better," Thibodeau said. "They have three guys who are under the radar and don't get the credit they deserve. When you look at Sefolosha, (Kendrick) Perkins and (Nick) Collison, they bring a lot of toughness and intangibles to a team. They make a team function well."
Without Rose, the Bulls have been forced to rely on contributions from myriad players as well. Those contributions were as absent as Rose on Sunday.
Gibson missed his first eight shots. Carlos Boozer managed two points. Nate Robinson missed 12 of 14 shots.
"Some nights they're not going to score as many points as they would like, but they always stay in the game with their physical toughness," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said before the game.
Not this time.
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