The Lakers had one of their best games — and wins — of the season on Sunday night, beating the Nuggets handily with strong team play on both sides of the ball. The Lakers not only passed and assisted well, but helped water down a potent Nuggets offense with attentive defense (that was aided by early departures by Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap).
A win is a win, though, and the Lakers will be looking to get another one this evening when the Chicago Bulls visit Staples Center.
I’m just going to say this bluntly, the Bulls are a bad team. They only boast 3 wins against 11 losses, good for second to last in the East (the Hawks are 3-14). Chicago, after trading away Jimmy Butler and waiving Dwyane Wade, are not fielding a good team. Their point guard rotation is not ideal and they’re relying heavily on lineups which rely on multiple league average (or worse) players to make Fred Hoiberg’s schemes hum.
Needless to say, it’s not worked very well.
If you’re looking for a bright spot, though, it’s rookie Lauri Markkanen. The University of Arizona product (by way of Finland) is leading the Bulls in scoring at 15.6 points per game, shooting the ball well from distance (36.7%) and decently enough from the floor overall (44.7%). He’s flashing nice polish as a scorer, showing he understands how to leverage his shooting in ways that also get him baskets around the rim via closeouts and post ups vs. switches.
I’d write more about the Bulls, but honestly, this game is less about them as it is about how seriously the Lakers take them as an opponent. As we saw in the Phoenix game last week, the Lakers are not immune from playing lax and offering up sub par energy or attention to detail against a team that they are favored over. They’re not good enough to do this, of course, but it’s not stopped them before. If they do it again tonight, even against a team that is as bad as the Bulls, a loss is not out of the question.
So, rather than looking at this from an individual matchup perspective, what I’m really looking for is the right amount of energy and focus from the Lakers. Are they looking to move the ball, get into their sets quickly, and avoid taking difficult shots early in the shot clock? Are they sticking to the gameplan by closing out appropriately on the Bulls shooters, pressuring passing lanes, and maintaining their boxout discipline? Games like this are won by doing the little things well in order to allow the bigger things to hit naturally. If the Lakers don’t do them, this game will remain close.
Lastly, there is one matchup I’ll be watching just for the sheer fun of it all: Brook vs. Robin Lopez. Whenever these brothers do battle I like to imagine them having so many games of one-on-one in their front driveway, neither one giving an inch in order to gain bragging rights. So, I’ll be paying a bit of extra attention to the game within the game as those two wage war under the hoop, boxing each other out and fighting for post position.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet and NBA TV.