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updated: 11/7/2012 10:31 PM

Thunder adjusting to life without Harden

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  • Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives to the basket in front of Toronto Raptors guard Jose Calderon during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. Oklahoma City won 108-88. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

      Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives to the basket in front of Toronto Raptors guard Jose Calderon during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. Oklahoma City won 108-88. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
    Associated Press

  • Forward Kevin Durant and the Thunder face the Bulls tonight at the United Center.

      Forward Kevin Durant and the Thunder face the Bulls tonight at the United Center.
    Associated Press

 
 

The Oklahoma City Thunder visited the United Center two weeks ago for a preseason game and all seemed normal.

A few days later, the defending Western Conference champs dealt sixth man James Harden to Houston.

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Harden's departure seemed inevitable, since OKC has so many large contracts. But making the deal a few days before the season opener, when the Thunder could have kept him around for another season on a rookie scale contract -- that was a surprise.

Kevin Martin arrived from the Rockets and is off to a good start, averaging 19.3 points. But Oklahoma City seems to be making a tough adjustment.

Through Tuesday, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both were averaging 20.8 points.

Last season Durant averaged 28 points and Westbrook was at 23.6. As a team, the Thunder is averaging 98.3 points, compared to 103.1 last year.

OKC is back in town to face the Bulls on Thursday.

The Bulls went through a similar adjustment by adding Richard Hamilton just before the season began last year. But he was a free agent. No one left the Bulls in that transaction.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was in Boston when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived in trades, but those happened during the summer and there was plenty of time to adjust. The Celtics ended up winning the championship.

"I think it's the nature of the league," Thibodeau said Wednesday. "There's a lot of change, and it's how quickly you can adapt to that change. That's the challenge that everyone faces.

"I think the fact that the core of their team is basically the same, I think that helps. Martin's been around for a while. He has a lot of experience. I think the transition has been seamless for him."

Butler gets it done:

Second-year forward Jimmy Butler hasn't logged a ton of NBA minutes.

He was put to the test Tuesday, though, playing the entire fourth quarter against Orlando to help combat the quick guard combo of Arron Afflalo, E'Twaun Moore and J.J. Redick.

"I feel like I work hard enough where I can battle day in and day out with anybody," Butler said. "I've got great teammates. I see their work ethic. It makes me want to go in and do the same thing."

Butler doesn't have much personal history with these opponents, so he tries to be ready for anything.

"It's a lot about the will to want to do it," he said. "I feel like if you go out there and play hard and you're talking on defense, it's not only myself that's guarding him, it's four other guys.

"Whenever (his man) comes off a pindown, Jo (Noah) is there, (Carlos) Boozer is there, Taj (Gibson) is there. It has a lot to do with the scouting report but also the will to want to do it."

Bull horns:

Center Joakim Noah is staying busy. Through four games he has averaged 39 minutes per game. He played just less than 41 minutes in Tuesday's win over Orlando.

"It's not really this point where you feel it. It's the next day," Noah said after the game. "I feel good. I think the older you get, you kind of understand what needs to be done, understand recovery a little bit better." …

Houston-area native Jimmy Butler was pressed to predict Sunday's Bears-Texans game. "Texans 120, Bears 3 -- something like that," he said with a laugh.

"We're unstoppable. When you've got the Super Bowl team in Houston, anything's possible."

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