Preview & Chat: The Chicago Bulls

Kurt —  March 21, 2009

Records: Lakers 54-13 (1st in the West) Bulls 32-37 (8th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.8 (1st in league) Bulls 107.3 (18th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.6 (6th in league) Bulls 108.4 (17th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Bulls Derrick Rose, Ben Gordom, John Salmons, Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah

Watching the Tournament: I am a rather sad 89th in the FB&G NCAA Tournament pool after a rough second day, and my Midwest bracket is a disaster. Congrats to irielakerfan10 (March Moustache Madness) who leads after the first round of play.

I like to watch games and think about guys at the next level, specifically guys on my team. It’s far too early to say who the Lakers will take with a pick at the bottom of the first rounds, private workouts have not started and there will be a lot of movement on the draft board. But, you can get an idea of the guys available at the end of the first round.

DraftExpress (the best of the draft sites, for my money) has the Lakers taking Tyler Hansbrough, which is not an idea I love. I’m not sure how well his game will transfer to the next level, I’d rather take on a good athlete but a bit of a project. Still, there are some interesting names at picks 25-30: Jerome Jordan (Tulsa), Darren Collison (UCLA), Chase Budinger (Arizona), Hansbrough (UNC) and Damion James (Texas). Just a couple guys to watch.

The Lakers coming in: Two quick thoughts on Phil Jackson’s update on Andrew Bynum’s return at some point next month, at which time he needs to play his way into shape.

One, if I wanted to take the pressure off a kid working out to get back, which watching his team struggle without him, I’d say exactly what Jackson did. You don’t want Bynum to rush back too fast, and you want your team to focus on the now and not be looking for the Cavalry to come charging over the hill. PJ did both those things.

Second is something Eric Pincus once told me that is dead true around the league: Coaches are the worst place to get injury updates. They are out of that loop. They have so much on their plate, dealing with game plans and practices and travel, that they have no time to fantasize about players they don’t have on the active roster (except Larry Brown, apparently). Coaches get their injury status updates second or third hand, often, and they are simply not very reliable sources on these things.

The Bulls Coming In: Another game in the “with this roster they should have a better record” series. Because to me, the Bulls still have a lot of talent — Rose will lead the way, but guys like Thomas and Deng and Hinrich can be very good, athletic pieces of a puzzle The Bulls just haven’t figured out how to put it all together yet.

The Bulls also seem to have made out well in their trade with the Kings at the deadline. Here is Matt from By the Horns talking about Salmons and Brad Miller (both of whom had some good games against the Lakers when they were in SacTown) after the Bulls beat OKC:

Like John Salmons, who followed up his 38-point effort against the Celtics with 20 points on 8-for-15 from the field (which gives him 82 points in his last three games). I have to tell you, Salmons is better than I thought he was. Since he arrived from Sacramento, he’s averaging more points on fewer shot attempts (and 50 percent shooting), he’s rebounding a little better and his PER has jumped from 16.1 to 18.5.

Speaking of former Kings who are better than I thought, how about Brad Miller? Last night he chipped in 14 points, 6 boards and a team-high 5 assists off the bench. And yeah, his numbers are up since his relocation to Chicago, but with Brad it’s more about those little intangibles. Like the way he manages to come up with key offensive rebounds (he had four of them last night). Or how he manages to get to the hoop. How does he do that? Seriously, Brad Miller couldn’t outrun a park bench, but somehow he gets his shambling bulk to the front of the rim. I guess you could call that veteran savvy.

The Bulls have a lot of pieces, but I just don’t se the overarching plan of what kind of team they are trying to be. With all the athleticism on this team, they should not be middle of the pack in both offense and defense in the league. They should be excelling at something.

Keys To The Game: The Bulls are 17-12 against the West this season. Just putting it out there to say this is no gimmee.

There is nobody on the Bulls that can stop Gasol and his host of moves, no matter how tired he is right now. The Bulls have struggled to defend the four and the five all season, The Lakers need to establish Gasol early, as always. The second unit needs to use him. I feel like I write variations of that sentence every game, but it’s in hopes of actually seeing it some day.

The Lakers need to control the paint on both ends. On defense, they need to not let Rose just get to the rim, because he can both finish and set up those athletic wings from there. Force him to be a jump shooter, he is average to cold if you can force him out of the middle of the floor and get him shooting from the wings (he will kill you from the free throw line with jumpers, if you let him. With Noah in the lineup, the Lakers can afford to help off him, but when Brad Miller enters the game it is more problematic, he is the type of big with a midrange game that really hurts the Lakers defensive rotations.

The Bulls are one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the league, Gasol and Odom should get a lot of second-chance points tonight.

Where you can watch: 5:30 start time for those of us in LA, with KCAL 9 doing the broadcast, or WGN if you want to the Bulls announcers.