Preview & Chat: The Chicago Bulls

Kurt —  November 19, 2006

Test Time. The Lakers beat the Raptors Friday night because, well, they were the Raptors, not because the Lakers played well. This week they can’t do that, starting tonight they have four games against quality teams – the Bulls, the Clippers, the Jazz and the Nets. I’ve got more on it a LAist, but think about this: The Lakers got their 6-3 record against opponents with a 29-43 record so far, this week’s teams are 19-11.

Slumping? Expect to read/hear a lot about how the Bulls are off to just a 3-6 start – and losing three in a row — despite expecting to be Eastern Conference contenders, But they just lost their last three on the toughest road trip in the NBA this season – the Texas three step of Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, A lot of teams are going to lose three in a row going on that road trip.

All D, no O. The book on the Bulls coming into the season is they were going to be maybe the best defensive team in the league, the question was who was going to score. So far, fairly true, the Bulls are 7th in the league in defensive efficiency (giving up 103.2 points per 100 possessions), but are 24th on offense (103.2 per 100 possessions). For comparison, the Lakers are 8th in defense (108.8 per 100) but 21st in defense (107.9).

Makes for an interesting match up tonight. Whichever team’s weakness steps up – the Bulls offense or the Laker defense – will likely determine the game.

Speaking of D. The Lakers held the Raptors to 39.1% shooting in the first quarter, but it struck me as more of a fact that the Raptors missed decent looks rather than great defense. The Raptors shot 56% in the second quarter, and the Lakers played poor transition defense during the third quarter run by Toronto, but when the game was on the line in the fourth Toronto shot just 42% (again, missing good looks).

The Lakers, by the way, shot 61.1% in the first quarter then 73% in the second quarter, A team shooting that well should blow their opponent out, the fact they didn’t speaks to their defense.

Reserving judgment. Game two of Kobe up at the initiator role was a lot less impressive looking than the first game. Kobe looked better, so much so that Jackson sat him in the third quarter for just taking shots and not running the offense. A good and bad sign, but that isolation ball the Lakers got into against the Raptors was ugly.

Understanding Phil. Sometimes I don’t get his rotations. As the insightful Paul Westphaul said at the half, in the first nine minutes of the Raptor game, the Lakers had seven turnovers, when Farmar stepped on the floor the Lakers had none for the next seven minutes, and the team went on a 14-7 run. It may have been Farmar’s best game yet, and although Smush did not play poorly Farmar should have been rewarded. He wasn’t.
Farmar sits the entire third quarter, and plays the first half of the fourth quarter, but is subbed out after helping start an 11-2 run,

Fitting together as a team. First, Blog-a-Bull remains one of the best blogs out there, so I’m just going to steal from them: this is by a post put up by GWKD there.

The influx of this new talent has certainly destabilized the current “team” concept. While the Bulls may boast of the deepest bench in the league, it also must be giving Skiles fits as to who to play. Yes, we love Ben, Tyrus, Thabo, Griffin, Khryapa, P.J. and others, but how do they fit together? So we lack consistency.

Thing to look for. Much like the Lakers, the Bulls are still toying with a lot of lineups right now trying to find the right mix. We’ll see if either team can find one to exploit some matchups.

The Lakers need to hold on to the ball. So far this season the Lakers have turned the ball over on 20.2% of their possessions, do that tonight against a good defensive team and they will make you pay.

Watch for Luol Deng, who has been shooting 57.8%, scoring 21.2 points per 40 minutes played and has team best PER of 22.33. He’s also a place the Lakers can attack, with Walton or Odom, because he has been a weak point defensively.

What may decide the game is how well the Lakers defend the good Bulls guards: Kirk Hinrich (shooting 57.4% [eFG%] overall and 50% on threes for the season) and Ben Gordon off the bench (he can run hot and cold, but just ask the Rockets how good he is (34-point second half the other night). Defending the point has been the Lakers biggest weakness this season.

Looking forward to seeing how Bynum, who had one of his down games against the Raptors, deals with Big Ben Wallace in the middle.