After a great team win on Tuesday against the Warriors, the Lakers are back at it today against the Bulls. Of course, this game carries some extra significance since with today being Christmas and all that comes with that for both teams.
I’ve always thought the road team was at a bit of an advantage when it comes to playing on Christmas as they’re the ones who don’t have the family commitments that come with having a game on this day. I wouldn’t call it a “distraction” (as a person with a wonderful wife and two small children of my own, that word is a terrible disservice to what this time of year means), but there are certainly multiple responsibilities that come with playing a professional basketball on this specific day. For the Bulls, then, they are surely feeling some of that today while the Lakers, though definitely missing their family, aren’t necessarily going through those same things today. What that means towards the final result of this game remains to be seen, but it’s not something to be discounted out of hand.
As for the game, as mentioned above, the Lakers come in off a feel-good win and will look to ride some of the momentum they established on Tuesday. And while “incorporating Kobe” will likely be a storyline a lot of the pundits focus on, I’ll be more focused on how he looks physically and whether or not he has the ability to separate and knock down the shots he’s capable of hitting. While Kobe’s shot volume has been an issue this season, one of the reasons it’s really an issue is that he’s missing them at the rate he is while forcing the action too often. The key today, then, will be Kobe striking the right balance between playmaker and scorer but, more importantly, finding a way to actually hit a better percentage of the shots he does take. In other words, here’s hoping for a 50% shooting night rather than the 38% he’s been giving over the course of the season.
The other big story, of course, is that this is the first game that the Lakers will face Pau Gasol since he departed for Chicago in the offseason. I don’t need to get into how much I appreciated Pau’s contributions to the team while he was a Laker or how much I think of his game. Those who have followed me at all over the time he was on the team knows exactly how I feel about the Spaniard. In saying that, however, it will be great to see him and Kobe embrace before the game and then see how they compete against each other once the whistle blows. Knowing both of them, they will go at it all night doing whatever it takes to win.
Besides Kobe and Pau, there are other players and stories to monitor. Derrick Rose is looking more and more like the player he once was, flashing the speed, quickness, and athleticism that made him such a terror. There’s also the rise of Jimmy Butler, a player who is making the leap into stardom in his 4th season. Butler has increased his per-36 minute scoring by over 7 points a game and has remained productive on the glass and in dishing assists as well. Beyond those two there is also Joakim Noah — one of my favorite players in the league — and his combination of hustle, skill, and defense from the Center position.
After reading the paragraph above, it’s no wonder the Lakers will be heavy underdogs in this game. The Bulls are one of the better outfits in the league and the Lakers are, well, not. In saying that, though, the Lakers have also saved some of their best performances for teams just like these Bulls — top teams who should literally wipe the floor with them. So, in that respect, anything can happen tonight. I don’t expect the Lakers to win, but, then again, today is Christmas and maybe the team has one more gift for all their fans in this game.
Where you can watch: 5pm start time on TNT and TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio Los Angeles 710AM.