The Lakers are back on the road today, starting a three game road trip which begins in Chicago. As it will be for the rest of the season, every game on the road will be Kobe’s last trip to that city so expect there to be some sort of acknowledgement from that franchise of Kobe’s looming retirement.
Some of these games will mean more than others, though, and that will especially be true tonight versus the Bulls. This isn’t just because that is the franchise Michael Jordan played for and Kobe’s long quest to try and replicate Michael Jordan’s success, but rather because it will be the last time Kobe faces off against longtime teammate and partner in success Pau Gasol. The two shared good moments just a few weeks ago when the Bulls visited STAPLES Center and again last weekend when both were in Toronto for the All-Star game. But this time is really the finale and that will bring some strong emotions.
Kobe and Pau have a special relationship built on the instant chemistry they exhibited after Pau was acquired in 2008 and the massive amounts of success they achieved together while Pau was a Laker. The video above highlights some of that, but unless you watched them nightly for the six and a half years they were teammates, it’s hard to fully grasp how in tune they were as partners; how their versatility and all-court games complemented each others. Their relationship was symbiotic and both became the best versions of themselves playing next to the other.
Tonight’s game, then, means something to both these guys. And it is worth tuning in as a fan just to enjoy seeing them share the court one more time, even if as foes.
The game is about more than these two as well, of course. The Bulls are a team in flux, missing their best player (Jimmy Butler) and, more than halfway through the year, still adjusting to a new head coach while spinning their wheels in their quest to be one of the East’s real contenders to the unseat the Cavs. They traded Kirk Hinrich at the deadline, but the larger deals they were rumored to be a part of — featuring Gasol — never materialized. That lack of a shakeup left many of those who seriously analyze this team daily more than a bit down on where this team stands, where it’s going, and the decision makers who are stewarding that path.
So, the Bulls have something to play for and should be giving their best effort to get a win. They are coming off a good win against the Raptors, but if you have watched this team at all this year you would have to acknowledge they are one of the more confounding teams in the league when it comes to putting up a good win and then a bad loss the next night.
Does this mean the Lakers have a chance? Well…sort of? As I’ve noted, Jimmy Butler is out. Joakim Noah (shoulder surgery) and Nikola Mirotic (complications from an appendectomy) are also out. The Bulls have some depth to compensate, but will need good performances from Rose, Pau, and multiple role players for the final score to actually reflect the difference in the team’s records. On the other hand, if the Lakers get good performances from Kobe, the young guys, and one of Lou Williams/Nick Young they too have a chance of being in this game. Especially since the Bulls defense is not what it can be with Butler/Noah unavailable.
The individual matchups are also worth watching. Clarkson/Russell vs. Rose and Randle/Nance vs. Taj Gibson/Bobby Portis are ones I will be especially interested in. The challenge for the Lakers’ young players will be on both sides of the ball and I am curious to see how they manage their responsibility to defend and be impactful offensively too. Carrying their own is the type of progress I am looking for from them as the season enters its final quarter.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet and nationally on ESPN. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.