The Lakers have much improved since their last matchup with the Chicago Bulls in January, where they were run out of the building. LA is 7-2 since the All-Star break, and with a little help from other teams, are now tied with the Utah Jazz for the eighth spot in the West. Kobe Bryant has played out of his mind as of late. With late game heroics, Kobe has led the Lakers to back-to-back come from behind wins, where he became the first player since Michael Jordan in 1989 to post 40 points and 10 assists in consecutive games. Dwight Howard has stepped up in a big way defensively in the past few games, especially down the stretch. Steve Nash has made his mark on these Lakers’ comebacks with clutch, opportune shots, even though it has been quietly done by the two-time MVP.
Chicago will be shorthanded today as Richard Hamilton (back) and Taj Gibson (knee) are out of today’s game. Kirk Hinrich, who torched the Lakers back in January, is listed as day-to-day with an ankle injury, and already missed Friday’s game against Utah. The Bulls continue to play without Derrick Rose, who reportedly is cleared by doctors to return, but wants to wait until he is 100 percent. The Lakers have an all-time record of 84-57 against the Bulls, with a 45-25 home record against Chicago.
Frontcourt: Center Joakim Noah is a type of player that every coach wants on their team and who makes his teammates better. Noah is a source of consistent energy for the Bulls and is unafraid and more than willing to do the “dirty work” to get the job done. The vast majority of his offense comes from pounding the glass to get put-backs and from his teammates using dribble penetration to find him easy opportunities. Dwight Howard must do an excellent job at boxing Noah out and blocking inside shots tonight. Noah is averaging 11.9 points, 2.4 blocks and 11.2 rebounds per game.
Carlos Boozer is having a very solid season so far after seeing his numbers drop last season. Boozer’s input to a game is typically very consistent to his overall averages (15.5 points and 9.2 rebounds), but he is still very capable of posting big numbers, like he did on Friday against Utah with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Earl Clark must defend Boozer’s mid-range game for all 48 minutes.
Due to multiple injuries in Chicago’s lineup, the Bulls are using a very short rotation off the bench. This is mainly made up of Jimmy Butler and Nazr Mohammed. Butler is averaging 7.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in 22.3 minutes per game. Butler is inconsistent with his offensive contribution, as he can score 20 points (as he did against Indiana) then score one point two games later (as he did against Utah). Mohammed should not be too much of a threat for LA, but he is seeing more minutes due to all their injuries. The main focus with Mohammed is to keep him off the glass.
Backcourt: Chicago’s backcourt still awaits the return of Derrick Rose, which could happen soon based on reports. Kirk Hinrich has done as good of a job as you can hope for in filling in for Rose. In fact, the whole Bulls team has done a superb job in covering the loss of Rose. However, the Lakers may have caught a break with the possibility of Hinrich being sidelined with his ankle injury. Further, Rip Hamilton is not with the team due to his back injury.
Therefore, Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson are getting extended roles and minutes for Chicago. Robinson, who is also battling an injury to his ribs, is a pesky player on both ends of the floor and has the potential of getting hot on offense at anytime. The Lakers must limit Robinson’s inside penetration and force him to shoot outside shots, where he is shooting 41.8 percent. The essential part of Belinelli’s game that the Lakers must limit is his three-point shooting, where he is shooting 37.8 percent. Doesn’t sound high, but when he’s gets going from downtown, it can be detrimental to the opposing team. Over the last three games, Belinelli is averaging 20.3 points and 5.0 assists on 66.7 percent from the three-point line (10-15). Kobe Bryant must keep Belinelli off that three-point line, and stay with him for every second per possession.
Luol Deng leads the team in scoring with 16.3 points and playing time with 39.1 minutes per game. Deng is also grabbing 6.6 boards per game, and shooting 42.2 percent from the field. The Lakers didn’t see Deng in their January matchup due to a hamstring injury. Metta World Peace, who will most likely be matched up with Deng, needs to cover him consistently to prevent him from getting open.
Keys to Victory:
Start Strong: While the come from behind wins against New Orleans and Toronto are very fun and thrilling to watch, it can’t become a habit for the Lakers. The late game heroics by Kobe Bryant are phenomenal to witness in his seventeenth year, but he looked exhausted and drained after Friday night’s game. If the Lakers play with the energy, defense and passion that they have been playing with in the second halves in both Wednesday and Friday’s game for all 48 minutes, there would be no need for a comeback. The Lakers need to stay tight on defense throughout the game, and make smart decisions on offense to get the ball moving.
Make Chicago’s Defense Work: The Bulls are a definite “defensive team”, as their 91.4 opponent’s points allowance per game (3rd in the league) reflects just that. When facing such a strong defensive team like Chicago, the team can only do so much to limit their defensive abilities. This doesn’t mean the Lakers can forget about playing defense themselves, because it will be necessary. It does mean that the Lakers must outsmart the Bulls’ defense with top-notch offense. In other words, make them work for it on both ends of the floor. Move the ball, make the extra pass, mix it up, limit turnovers and keep them guessing. Sometimes it comes down to a mental game. Luckily, the Lakers have some of the strongest basketball IQ guys in the game on their roster.
Chicago Bulls (35-27) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (32-31)
12:30 PM PST, March 10, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Bulls Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Nate Robinson
SG: Marco Belinelli
SF: Loul Deng
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Joakim Noah
Key Reserves: F Jimmy Butler, C Nazr Mohammad