DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau won't say it, but there's little doubt his team faces its first elite opponent of the young season when it hosts reigning Western Conference champion Oklahoma City on Thursday night at the United Center.
“Every game is a measuring stick,” Thibodeau said after the morning shootaround. “It reveals where you are and tells you the things you have to work on. Then you have to ask, ‘Are you doing things at a championship level?'
"That's how I want our guys to approach it. You have to be the same for every opponent. We know they're a good team. We have to be ready.”
The Thunder have alternated wins and losses through four games, coming off a 108-88 win over the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday. They're adjusting to life without the sixth man of the year as James Harden was traded during training camp, but that hasn't changed their status in Thibodeau's eyes.
“The core of that team is basically the same,” he said. “[Kevin] Martin is different than James Harden but he's been a great scorer in the league for a long time. And he fits in with what they do. If you overload on [Russell] Westbrook or [Kevin] Durant there's another guy that can make you pay.”
Westbrook and Durant are averaging 21 points a game while Martin isn't far behind with 19 ppg.
“They have a lot of offensive firepower on that team,” Thibodeau said. “They can spread you out and have the ability to put it on the floor. If you foul them you're just giving them points. It's a great free throw shooting team.”
So after taking on the likes of Sacramento, Cleveland, New Orleans and Orlando -- and producing a 3-1 record -- the Bulls will find out more about themselves against the first team they'll see that has a chance at making a long playoff run.
“Everyone in this league is capable of beating you,” Thibodeau said.
Some more than others.
“You hate to see that with any player. Danny is a fierce competitor. It's a tough break.” -- Thibodeau, on the Indiana Pacers losing forward Danny Granger for two to three months with an injured left knee.
“I guess the way we've shot the 3 so far, there's only one way to go.” -- Thibodeau, on his team's last-place ranking (.262) in 3-point shooting.