After a convincing win over the Bucks on Thursday, the Lakers moved to 8-0 on the road and started out their 7 game road trip the right way. They played with good energy and focus and LeBron — who has started out this year playing with more purpose than anticipated — carried the team home with a magnificent 4th quarter. Tonight, the Lakers are in Chicago to battle the Bulls and hope to keep that momentum going.
Winners of 3 in a row, the Bulls are playing well of late and have climbed back to only a game under .500 for the season. Wendell Carter is out with a quad issue, but Lauri Markkanen’s return has given the team a big boost offensively and given Zach LaVine a natural pick and pop partner who allows him more space to operate. Markkanen being back has also allowed the bench to settle in more, and in these last 3 wins that (mostly veteran) group has really made a difference on both sides of the ball.
The Lakers, then, would be wise to understand that this game is going to be a real test. The Bulls have real scoring punch and even without Carter have quality depth to go 10 deep. Remember too, the last time these teams played the Bulls took the game down to the buzzer with some excellent outside shooting from LaVine and Coby White, only falling short at the end when a LaVine pull up J missed.
From a motivation standpoint, I hope an AD homecoming can help rally this group from an energy and focus standpoint, but also help get AD out of the “funk” he said he’s been in. AD’s gone 5 straight games now scoring under 20 points and while he’s been contributing in other ways on both ends of the floor, I’d really like to see him break out soon with a big night.
Some of that will require more assertiveness from Davis — particularly in looking to get into the paint and establish deeper position in the post when working off the ball (which includes on the break and in early offense chances by running the middle lane more rather than trailing so much). But some of that will also require his teammates to look for him more often, especially in the P&R either on the roll or when he’s pops to the midrange where he can either get off an easy jumper or drive the ball deeper to get off a floater or all the way to the rim.
Defensively, the Lakers must focus on defending the 3 point line. The Bulls are 11th in Offensive Rating this year and much of that is on the strength of their accuracy and makes from behind the arc (where they rank 7th in both). As we saw two weeks ago, LaVine and White are more than capable of going off from distance and are not shy firing away. With Markkanen now back too, he’s another threat from out there and with him playing either PF or C, he will space the defense out and make the rotations longer and more difficult.
Being sharp in their coverages is a necessity tonight for the Lakers, then, and things can get away from them quickly if they’re not attentive or show any sort of laziness — not only in recovering to the arc, but in their rotations behind that first closeout. The Lakers ranginess defensively will serve them well here, but as the old Wooden saying goes you cannot mistake activity for achievement. Show understanding of what you’re supposed to do and then do it with purpose in order to be successful. Both work hand in hand and one without the other will fall flat.
Offensively, being down Carter should only encourage the Lakers to attack the paint more. The Bulls are not a particularly big or physical team even with Carter, but without him it’s even more true. Those guys will play hard, but if Bron and AD show a commitment to getting into the paint, they should score consistently. And, if they do that, the help will come with even more consistency, opening up the team’s shooters who have been so hot to start the year.
In the end, the Bulls are a good team and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But, if the Lakers come out and play hard and smart, this game should go their way. Take nothing for granted and play hard to get AD (and THT) a win in their return home.
Where you can watch: 6:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.