Game Preview & Chat: The Chicago Bulls

Kurt —  November 18, 2007

Records: Lakers 5-3; Bulls 2-6
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.2 (11); Bulls 94.9 (29)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.9 (18); Bulls 103.3 (11)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Brian Cook, Kwame Brown
Bulls: Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas (a guess), Andres Nocioni, Ben Wallace

Lakers Notes: Take the season +/- numbers so far this year (and average per 48 minutes, as 82games.com does) and who comes out as the team leaders? Walton, Bynum, Radmanovic and Farmar — that would be our bench squad. That’s just a little statistical backup for what our eyes have been telling us — it is that bench that has won the Lakers a lot of games this season.

That was the case against the Pistons, when Phil wisely rode the hot hands (Farmar and Bynum) rather than just following the substitution pattern. The fourth quarter against the Pistons Friday night was the best 12 minutes of basketball the Lakers played this year — pressing on defense to force the tempo, making good passes in the offense, attacking the defense at its weakest points and hitting the shots.

Turiaf is not expected to play tonight because of the ankle — this early in the season better to give him too much rest rather than rush him back. No need for this to linger throughout the season.

The Bulls Coming In: I was watching the Clippers/Bulls game last night when I made note of a nice move by Deng, attacking from the wing, getting into the lane and hitting a pretty little running hook. The problem was he aggravated an already sore back with that play and he will not be in the lineup tonight — something that will hamper and already struggling Bulls offense. That said, the Bulls looked more aggressive getting to the hoop last night than I had seen early on.

I also watched a chunk of the Bulls/Suns game Thursday night, but I’m not sure how much we can take away from that. The Bulls got sucked into the Suns game (as so many teams do) and that’s a hard way to win. They pulled to a tie at about the end of the third quarter, then midway through the fourth decided to go small and run with the Suns. Game over.

The Bulls slow start has generated a lot of talk — I’d suggest reading through the backlog at Blog-a-Bull. The defense isn’t what it was last year (when they led the lead in defensive efficiency) and the offense has been stagnant and filled with bad shots. Maybe the best one-post breakdown came from another long-time Bulls fan, Kelly Dwyer, in an email to Henry at True Hoop. He made some good points about Deng, but we’ll skip those for tonight’s purposes. Here are a few other highlights, but read the whole post:

(On Hinrich and his attitude and play): When his shoulders are slumped, his shooting form resembles a crescent moon, and his facial expressions resemble those of your typical Pitchfork-reader; then a 2-of-11 night is the usual result. Throw in the abject lack of free throws (even at his best) and poor percentage finishing in the paint (even at his best), and you have a mini-Ben Wallace running point.

(On the coaching) It’s not Scott Skiles’ fault that Hinrich is shooting so poorly, Deng isn’t showcasing his usual fundamentally-sound streak, Gordon is streaky, or that Wallace sprained his ankle. The Bulls coach knows the games, draws up some gorgeous plays out of timeouts, and generally does a fine job with his team. So why is he constantly trying to make life harder on himself? We’re a quick-fix society, I grok, but there’s no reason to make lineup changes for the sake of lineup changes like he does … every damn December. Throwing Nocioni out at power forward against an up-tempo team like the Suns sounds about right; until you realize that Nocioni’s strengths (drawing power forwards out to the three-point line to either defend a shot they don’t want to defend, or blow by the slower big men) work against just about any other team BESIDES the Phoenix Suns. Shawn Marion doesn’t mind sticking to that three-point line,

(Overall thoughts) This is still a damn good basketball team. Should they make the playoffs, I like Chicago’s chances with any Eastern team outside of the Nets (whom I loathe, to be candid, but match up well against the Bulls). Some of the best defensive games of Hinrich’s career have come against Ray Allen, the same goes for Luol Deng when it comes to Paul Pierce, and Chicago’s record against the Western giants last year is pretty solid.

The Bulls stink offensively, but its turnovers, rebounding issues, and inability to get to the free throw line is right in line with what went down last year, when the team finished 20th in offensive efficiency. If and when the team starts to hit shots, they’ll improve, and hopefully ascend to the ranks of the mediocre. That, and the defense (first overall last season), should vault this team back into the race. It’s that start, and the missed chances at home against mediocre teams, that worries.

That said, this is your date, and it’s still only half past eight. No coaching change or lineup reshuffle or Important Trade Worth These Capital Letters is either in the offing or probable or likely to help.

Factoid That Would Interest Only Peter King: I could have my blogger’s license revoked for admitting this, but I kind of like the “Where Amazing Happens” commercials.

Keys To The Game: This is the chance for the Lakers to win a game with their defense, the Bulls as a team are shooting just 42.1% (eFG%) this season and tonight will be without their most dynamic offensive player. Hinrich is streaky, and the Lakers want to keep him bombing away from three — he is shooting just 19.2% from deep this year (but if he gets hot that plan changes, historically he can shoot from distance). Gordon can get hot too, and he needs to be focused on to prevent that from happening.

Ben Wallace’s bum ankle has meant the Bulls are not as formidable in the paint and on the boards — they are middle of the pack (18th) in defensive rebounding, so Bynum should be able to get to the offensive boards and get a couple easy put backs.

Tonight’s Game: Where good timing Happens: One of the underrated things about an NBA season is luck, specifically the luck of when you catch a team. There is going to be a string of a couple weeks this season where Minnesota is going to be able to beat just about anyone, and if they are on your schedule during that time you pick up the “how did we lose to those guys?” loss. Conversely, sometimes you need to catch good teams at a vulnerable time — like the Suns on a back-to-back, or the Pistons when they are without two starters.

Or the Bulls when they are without their best player and on the second game of a back-to-back. This is about the best time to catch one of the more talented young teams in the league. They are going to turn it around at some point, but tonight is a game the Lakers could and should win.

Where you can watch: Game time is 6:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into Fox Sports, nationally you’ll need the League Pass. Of course, you can always watch the ads, er, gamecast on ESPN.com

Kurt

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