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Oklahoma City Thunder look to maintain defense vs. Chicago Bulls

By The Sports Xchange
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook had 24 points, 17 rebounds, 13 assists, four steals and 10 turnovers in a loss to the Chicago Bulls on Friday in Chicago. Photo by Peter Foley/EPA-EFE
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook had 24 points, 17 rebounds, 13 assists, four steals and 10 turnovers in a loss to the Chicago Bulls on Friday in Chicago. Photo by Peter Foley/EPA-EFE

Having lost three of their last four games, the Oklahoma City Thunder were in need of some positive momentum Saturday night against the Los Angeles Clippers.

They got it, thanks in large part to their play on the defensive side, forcing 26 turnovers in a 110-104 win.

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Heading into Monday's game against the Chicago Bulls at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Thunder are looking to keep up their strong play on the defensive end, but Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan said it's not just about keeping up gaudy takeaway numbers.

"I don't think we ever go into a game saying, 'Hey listen, we want to turn this team over,'" Donovan told reporters. "You want to go in and you want to play solid defense."

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A big catalyst for the Thunder defensively recently has been point guard Russell Westbrook, who had six steals Saturday.

"When we defend like that, best team in the league," Westbrook said. "So we know what we have to do to win games, we've got to defend to win."

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Offensively, Oklahoma City has been lifted lately by Paul George, who is averaging 28 points per game over his last five, shooting 53 percent from the field (46-of-86) and 48.6 percent from behind the 3-point line (18-of-37).

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But George is much more encouraged with how things are going on the defensive end.

"We cause guys that aren't necessarily playmakers to make plays," George said.

The Bulls are expected to be without leading scorer Zach LaVine for the second consecutive game after LaVine injured his left ankle late in a 96-91 loss to Orlando in Mexico City.

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Playing without LaVine was no problem for the Bulls on Saturday, though they rallied for a 98-93 win at San Antonio.

It was just their second since Nov. 21. Their only other win in that time was Dec. 7 when they beat the Thunder at home. 114-112.

Against the Spurs, it was Kris Dunn that picked up the slack in LaVine's absence, hitting a floater with 38.8 seconds left, a jumper with 8.3 seconds left and a pair of free throws with three seconds left that put the game away.

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Dunn had 24 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals making his first start since Oct. 22 in his third game back from an extended absence due to a left knee injury.

"He's proven, last year, and then tonight, that he can close," Bulls head coach Jim Boylen said of Dunn. "And that's important."

According to the Chicago Tribune, LaVine could miss at least another week or two before returning, though surgery isn't expected to be required.

The absence is a big loss for a team that has struggled to find much positivity, especially after the firing of Fred Hoiberg and player unrest in the first few games of Boylen's tenure.

If the Bulls are to regain their footing, at least enough to be competitive, Dunn figures he needs to be a big part of it.

"My team believes in me," Dunn said.

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