Records: Lakers 8-3 Bulls 6-4
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 105.4 (16th in league), Bulls 98.0 (27th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 102.3 (10th in league) Bulls 99.5 (4th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Bulls: Derrick Rose, John Salmons, Loul Deng, Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah
Getting This Off My Chest (using my hands): As a guy with the jersey from Ireland’s last World Cup trip still hanging in my closet, I am angry today.
The Lakers Coming in: Pau Gasol, fresh off his Emmy worthy performance as “good Samaritan driving by accident” on CSI:Sunglasses, returns to the Lakers lineup tonight. I expect there is going to be a few games of a learning curve with him and the other players, but I do hope to see better movement and spacing in the half court, something virtually non-existent at points this season.
Kobe’s 16th point tonight will put him past Kareem into second all time on the Lakers scoring list. The Logo remains number one, until the first part of next year, when Kobe should pass him, too.
I went back and looked at the playing time the last six games for our three guards off the bench, trying to read the tea leaves as to what Phil may be thinking as he settles on a rotation. I came away with only one conclusion: Sasha seems to be the guy getting squeezed out. Brown and Farmar’s minutes were more random — based on matchups, mostly — but Sasha’s minutes continually seem to drop. At least the ones not mop up time late. We’ll see if that continues, we’ll see if Brown continues to get more time spelling Kobe at the two and not just as the PG, but that seems to be the trend.
The Bulls Coming in: The Bulls 6-4 start is the best start the franchise has had since MJ was still a Bull. Still, there is a sense that this Bulls team can be better, and a slow start by their franchise guy Derrick Rose is the primary reason.
Rose rolled his ankle in the preseason but has played through the pain, looking like about 70% of himself. He is shooting about as often, but is getting about three less shots at the rim a game and is hitting 3% less (both in eFG% and True Shooting Percentage). His assists are down and his turnovers are up. If you watch him, he just looks a step slower (and that negates his strength, somewhat). The same debate Lakers fans have had regarding Kobe and Gasol has been taking place in Chicago — is Rose better shutting it down for a little while and getting healthy or does he need to play because he is the franchise guy? Also, like LA, the coach thinks the injury is as much in his head as physical at this point.
But a slowed Rose alone cannot account for how poor the Bulls offense has been overall, and it has been poor. They really miss a guy who can just carry the team with his scoring for a stretch, someone like a Ben Gordon, for example. The Bulls have gotten terrible play out of the two spot, although Salmons has long been a Lakers killer.
The one bright spot for the Bulls has been Noah — who spent the summer working out at Venice Beach and has come back stronger and more explosive. He has been s a monster on the boards — he is grabbing 20.1% of the missed shots when he is on the floor. That is basically the same rate this season as Dwight Howard and Greg Oden. He is a double-double machine. The key, to borrow a line from David Thorpe: Energy is a talent.
Blogs and Links: There is Matt’s Bulls By The Horns, and of course there is the legendary Blog-a-Bull, one of the OG NBA blogs and still going strong.
I’ll be at the game tonight, putting up comments here, tweeting and pitching in at the ESPN Daily Dime live chat.
Keys to game: Seriously, the Lakers can’t lose to these guys.
The Bulls have had trouble scoring unless they get some easy transition baskets — that also is the thing that helped bring Detroit back the other night, the thing that had Denver running away from the Lakers in the second half recently. The Lakers need to limit turnovers and not take long-jumpers early in the shot clock that lead to those runouts. Be smart with the offense. For a full 48 minutes. That means you, bench players.
The Bulls offense starts with penetration, usually from Rose although they will get the ball to Deng in that role as well, and then have those guys kick out. Which means the Lakers must stick with some basic defensive principals — bigs show out on the pick and roll to slow the penetration (the Lakers are good trapping team off this as well), smart and quick rotations inside, and the perimeter defenders cannot just leave the shooters out at the three point line to sag inside.
The Lakers have not been good at owning the defensive glass this season — they need to against Noah and the Bulls, a good rebounding team, or it will come back to haunt them with easy second chance points. And with the way the Bulls have been shooting, there should be a lot of rebounds to go after tonight.
The energy and quickness (and dare I say length, in an homage to Joel Meyers) the Bulls have makes them a good defensive squad. One thing the Bulls do that reminds me of the best Spurs teams is they just do not foul much. They contest shots but they do not send you to the line. The Lakers need to attack the basket and try to get fouls on the Bulls, but need to realize they may not get all the calls they want. Even at home.
Where you can watch: This game is on TNT and tips off at 7:30, in theory (we know the early game on TNT is required to run long, so it could be 7:45). For the radio play-by-play check out ESPN 710.