Records: Lakers 12-2 (2nd in West), Bulls 7-4 (3rd in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 117.6 (1st in NBA), Bulls 106.7 (15th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.8 (12th in NBA), Bulls 103.2 (9th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Bulls: Derrick Rose, Keith Bogans, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Omer Asik
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum (out), Theo Ratliff (out); Bulls: Carlos Boozer (out), Taj Gibson (doubtful)
The Lakers Coming in: I have a feeling I’ll be typing this a lot this season, but the Lakers are on a winning streak (this time of 4 games) and are playing high level basketball. Their point differential is tops in the league (nearly 2 points better than the Spurs) at 11.3. Even thought they give up the most offensive rebounds a game of any team, they lead the league in total rebounds per game – a stat that will only improve once Bynum returns (as they better control their defensive glass andgrab a couple more offensive rebounds a game themselves). So while there are specific parts of the game that can be nitpicked, there’s really no point to do so as it that would make me the Shallow Hal of basketball analysts. Instead, appreciate what you have with this team because they’re putting on a display on most nights that even the most spoiled fans (and, based off the franchise’s success over the years, I’d consider Lakers fans pretty spoiled) need to get up and acknowledge as being pretty damned good.
Having said all that, if there’s one thing to note it’s that the Lakers’ early season schedule has not been that difficult. And even though I’m trusting of the numbers I spouted off in the previous paragraph and in the quality of play we’ve seen being the product of the Lakers’ skills and not necessarily their opponent’s lack thereof, the caliber of opposition will start to improve in the upcoming weeks andthat starts tonight with the visiting Bulls. So, while I remain confident and think that the Lakers will continue to show the class that they’ve displayed even against tougher foes, it will be interesting to if there are any marked changes in performance or results.
The Bulls Coming in: As mentioned, the Bulls are a strong team and likely the best the Lakerswill have faced in their first 15 games. They come in having won 5 of their last 6 contests with their only loss coming to a red-hot Spurs team.
They’re led by Derrick Rose who in his third year has developed into one of the best young guards in the league and by Joakim Noah who is now one of the premier rebounders and defensive bigs in the game. This duo is flanked by LuolDeng who also continues to flash his all around game (albeit inconsistently andnot with the greatest efficiency) by scoring and rebounding at an above average clip and by other solid role players that contribute by excelling at the things they do well and avoiding the things that they don’t.
While their offensive and defensive efficiency numbers don’t jump off the page, this group has the ingredients to stay close in any game and win them down the stretch (3 of their last 5 wins are by 5 points or less) based off the individual talents of Rose and their ability to get needed stops and rebound the ball effectively.
Interestingly enough, though, it’s the development of Rose that has some wondering if he’s really as good as many have made him out to be. Over at Hardwood Paroxysm, Noam Schiller has a great piece up that discusses Rose and how he’s judged by the media and fans and whether he is the MVP candidate that he’s being touted as. It’s worth your time to read the entire thing, but here’s a key passage that caught my eye:
(Rose) has undoubtedly been fantastic this season, and this Boozer-less Bulls squad probably has no business being 6-4 right now. But we are constantly led to believe that Rose is more than this. His name has been repeatedly thrust into MVP discussions, both by the media and by himself. If this is the case, then the standards by which we must judge him are MVP standards. Not young-stud standards, not perennial all-star standards, but MVP standards. Either that, or re-adjust your expectations. Otherwise, we’re just being hypocrites.
Call it hate if you want, but I refuse to sit back andbe satisfied with what Rose is now when what he can be – and hopefully will be in the near future – is so, so much more. MVPs. Titles. Unheard of athletic dominance. This is what we were promised, and what we should look for. We are looking for Derrick Rose to become DERRICK ROSE, not some kind of glorified Steve Francis/Stephon Marbury, sans the headcase.
The article touches on more than just Rose and discusses hype, hate, and even brings up Kobe, so go check it out.
Bulls Blogs: For many years now Blog-a-Bull has been the gold standard of Bulls sites. By the Horns also does a fantastic job covering the team from the Windy City. Give both sites a read.
Keys to game:Tonight is a great match up for the Lakers not just because the Bulls are a good team but because the things they do well are things that the Lakershave struggled withcontaining both this year and in season’s past. The Bulls post the 7thbest offensive rebound rate and attack the glass with reckless abandon. Noah is the key culprit here but Deng also grabs nearly 2 offensive boards a game. And while the Bulls will likely be without Taj Gibson – who is also a very good offensive rebounder – limiting the Bulls on the O-glass will be a test tonight for the Lakers.
The other thing the Bulls do well (and that the Lakers struggle to stop) is penetrate from the PG position. Rose is simply one of the best creators off the bounce in the entire league andwhoever matches up withhim will have his hands full. We’ll see if Phil goes with Fisher on Rose or if the Bulls’ starting of Bogans allows Phil to use Fisher on the less talented offensive player while putting Ron or Kobe on Rose, but regardless of the match up the Lakers will have to deal with Rose’s darts into the paint where he can finish with a finesse floater or throw it down with authority.
Offensively, the Lakers’ game plan shouldn’t look too different than on most nights but may require some early tweaks. The fact that Gibson is likely to sit out means that the Bulls will trot out some height in its front court with both 6’11” Noah and 7’0″ Asik patrolling the paint. Gasol has been on such a roll lately that he should still be able to get his typical numbers, but when he goes inside it will be a stark difference than what he’s seen in recent games vs. the Warriors, Pistons, and Suns. I’d like to see Pau use his face up game more against Asik and his standard post game against Noah and would like to see him do the majority of his work from the mid-post where he can either turn and face or back his man down for good looks at the basket.
Tonight is also a night where Kobe should be able to get going early. The Bulls start an undersized back court in Rose and Bogans and neither has the size to keep Kobe from earning good post position nor contest his shots effectively when he shoots his turn around jumper. If the Bulls decide to turn to Deng as a defensive option, the Lakers should then move the ball onto Artest who will have a similar advantage inside against whoever switches onto him. When the Bulls go to the bench they have better a defensive option in Ronnie Brewer, but Kobe’s typically had his number as well dating back to Brewer’s days with the Jazz. Essentially, don’t be surprised to see Kobe go to work tonight or for the Bulls to try to counter Kobe’s aggressiveness with double teams andtraps withthe result (hopefully) being facilitator Kobe breaking down the defense with the extra pass.
There’s also a good match up of benches tonight. I’ve already mentioned Brewer but the Bulls also have former Jazz-man Kyle Korver and former Warrior CJ Watson as key reserves. This trio has the ability to affect the game in different ways and the Lakers must be ready for Brewer’s activity in the passing lanes, Watson’s open court skill, and Korver’s marksmanship from deep. I’m especially concerned about Korver as the Lakers haven’t done the best job marking shooters this season and Kyle is currently shooting an outlandish 56.3% from three this season. The Bulls use him a lot like the Jazz did by running him off screens and as a weak side threat that keeps help defenders from clogging the paint on penetration by Rose. So, whoever is on Korver tonight (likely Barnes) will need to chase hard and fight through screens while also showing discipline when not directly involved in the game action. Because if Korver gets hot it can change the game.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time out West, locally on FSW and nationally on NBA TV. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.