Preview and chat: The Chicago Bulls

Kurt —  December 19, 2006

Hit the road, Jack. Six game road swing for the Lakers through the Midwest and East, starting tonight in Chicago. I’d say 3-3 is passable for this trip, 4-2 a good goal to shoot for.

About Kobe and Gil. Kobe got a lot of attention after saying Arenas’ 60-point performance against the Lakers was a player playing without a conscious. Bethlehem Shoals at Free Darko had a great post on all this.

As Brett’s noted, there’s a surface irony to Kobe questioning anyone else’s “conscience.” This supposes, however, that it was intended as a swipe at Gil. I think we can all agree that part of what makes Arenas such a joy to watch is that he does lack a basketball conscience. But rather than come off as stubborn or malicious, it’s responsible for his rapturous innocence.

On a personal note. I’m proud and honored to be Time Magazine’s man of the year.

The last meeting. The bad news: Odom led the Lakers with 23 points and used 25 possessions, more than any other Laker in their 10-point win. The Lakers are going to have to pick up that production from somewhere.

Bynum had a great game, sending back a Big Bad Ben Wallace shot early, he was an offensive and defensive force all night, finishing with 17 points and an offensive rating for the game of 103.5 (points per 100 possessions). But the Lakers also got a big game from Kwame Brown, who finished a team best +17 and played all the key minutes down the stretch.

Also, the Lakers pulled away with a fourth quarter run when the subs were on the floor (Odom, Kwame, VladRad, Evans and Shammond Williams back when he was getting minutes). Getting good play from the bench will again be key for the Lakers tonight, and on the road trip.

Defense. Last time these two played was one of the better defensive games for the Lakers as no Bull gave then trouble (save Nocioni, who was the only Bull with an offensive rating over 100 at 118.5).

But in the last three games the Lakers have let opponents shoot 55.7% (eFG%) and 42.3% from three. If they don’t start playing better defense, this is going to be a long road trip, simple as that. That last Bulls win is a model for how the Lakers need to play, both better defense on the perimeter and good defensive rotations in the middle with Bynum/Brown creating a strong inside presence. (That said, it’s easier to do that against the offensively-challenged Bulls.)

The Bulls are hot. They’ve won 11 of 12. How are they doing that? I went straight to the source out in Bears-crazy Chicago to see what has happened, and if anybody stopped complaining about Rex Grossman long enough to notice. Here’s what the always great Matt at Blog-a-Bull had to say:

I wish I could tell you what the difference has been, I’ve never been so unenthused over 11 wins out of 12 games before. It’s a hard thing to figure out, since the schedule has been so soft during that stretch: only 3 road games in that whole stretch, and the only win over a now-over-.500 team was Washington.

So yes, they’re playing better. Wallace has been incredible the past week, getting 62 rebounds in the 3 games. The scoring load has been coming from all places, most times from Deng and Nocioni, and Ben Gordon has been consistent and getting to the line. In case you missed my post last week, their defense has been transformed into a more aggressive one, yet still remains among the elite in the league (

But I can’t shake the feeling that they’re just playing better because of the schedule. I always thought that this team would absolutely beat up on the weaker teams in the league, since they’re deep, they always bring a defensive effort, and don’t play down to competition as a result. Especially when they play bad defensive teams, their movement and sharing within the offense is deadly, and their defense augments that by creating transition opportunities. However it’s still a question whether they can be effective against a team that challenges them defensively. One bright spot in that department is that lately Luol Deng has been a go-to guy late in games, complementing the every-so-often Gordon heroics.

AND, Wallace is a far better offensive player than Tyson Chandler. I’ve been pretty impressed with his passing ability. And even though he still bricks free-throws, fouling him still gets the other team in the penalty, which is nice for the usually FTA-deficient Bulls.

Things to look for. Last meeting the Lakers did a great job of pounding the ball in the paint and working inside on the Bulls and they need to do that again.

Last meeting the Lakers also had good perimeter defense, although the big guys blocking shots was a big part of that (and not so much against Washington). Smush, Evans and Kobe did a good job: Hinrich was in foul trouble and finished with 3 points and -1, Duhon was 0 points and -12, and Gordon had 9 points and +9. The Lakers need another night like that.

Phil Jackson rightly wants fewer threes taken. Look for the Lakers to pound the ball inside more.