Bulls-Lakers Preview

Los Angeles Lakers Status Check:
Record: 32-31
Division: 5-5
Conference: 18-21
Home Record: 21-11
Last 10 Games: 7-3
Streak: Won 2
Last game: 118-116 win over Toronto in OT
PPG: 102.7 (6th)
Opponents PPG: 101.7 (26th)
Offensive Rating: 108.0 (8th)
Defensive Rating: 106.9 (21st)
Pace: 94.8 (3rd)
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .515 (8th)
Turnover Percentage: .121 (29th)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: .742 (9th)
Offensive Rebound Percentage: .272 (13th)
Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt: .235 (2nd)
Opp. eFG%: .499 (18th)
Opp. TO%: .121 (29th)
Opp. FT/FGA: .168 (2nd)
Leading scorer: Kobe Bryant (27.8)

Stats from Basketball-Reference

Los Angeles Injury Report:
Pau Gasol: out (partially torn plantar fascia)
Jordan Hill: out (hip surgery)

The Lakers are playing their best basketball of the season right now, finally turning it on after months of underperforming and contending for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Bulls are floundering, dropping seven of their last 12 in a tough part of their season, currently in the fifth spot out East.

Kobe Bryant has recorded 40+ points and 10+ assists in his last two games, the first Laker to do that since Jerry West in 1970, according to Elias. Bryant is on a tear, averaging 36.0 points on 53.2 percent shooting from the field and 45.9 percent from deep over his last five games to go with 7.0 assists and 5.4 rebounds. Over his last ten games, he’s averaging 32.3 points on 53.9 percent shooting, 7.3 assists and 6.1 rebounds per contest. What that means is that Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler are going to have their hands full in this one.

Kobe’s heroics have been carrying the Lakers, as they’ve won seven of their last nine, but they haven’t all been very convincing wins. It took overtime to beat the Raptors by just two points, it took a 20-point comeback against the Hornets to escape New Orleans with a win, they beat the Hawks by one and both the Mavericks and Blazers by four. Both of their losses over that stretch, to the Thunder and Kings, were by double digits, as were victories over the Celtics and Timberwolves.

This isn’t to take away from the Lakers streak, but it does show, especially the last two games, that the Lakers, though winning, are very beatable.

The Bulls took the first game in this series, a double-digit win at home, which gave the Lakers six straight losses away from the Staples Center. But Los Angeles is much better at home, compiling a 21-11 record in the sunshine and smog, compared to 11-20 on the road.

Kobe was held to 16 points on 7-22 shooting in that first contest against Chicago. Without Deng in the line-up, Butler did a solid job on Bryant, while also scoring ten points and grabbing eight boards of his own. The Bulls will be without Kirk Hinrich again, who led Chicago in scoring with 22 points on 9-11 from the field in January matchup with Los Angeles. Kirk added eight assists and seven rebounds in what was his best all-around game this season. Rip Hamilton, who will also be out once again and didn’t travel with Chicago for the three-game road trip, added 13 points on 18 shots.

The Bulls were out-rebounded by ten, but shot 9-17 (52.9 percent) from three compared to 3-17 (17.6 percent) for the Lakers. The Bulls also won the turnover battle (16-8) and dished more assists (25-15).

The Lakers will be missing their own starter, as they will still be without Pau Gasol who is fighting a partially torn plantar fascia. Gasol had 15 points and 12 boards against the Bulls. And even with Hinrich playing, who is the Bulls best point guard defender, Steve Nash shot 5-12 and finished with 18 points. Nash and Nate Robinson are basically going to let the other one do whatever they want to on the offensive end.

It was all knotted up after three quarters in the first contest between the teams, before the Bulls outscored the Lakers 26-14 in the final frame. Chicago held LA to 26.3 percent from the field and forced six turnovers, while the Bulls shot 45.8 percent.

That solid fourth quarter defense is unusual for the Bulls, as the final twelve minutes is usually their worst. The Bulls allow opponent to score 23.6 points per fourth quarter, which is tenth in the league. That number doesn’t seem so bad, a top ten fourth quarter defense; however, the Bulls are 25th in the league in fourth quarter scoring themselves, at 22.5. And when it comes to opponent scoring in the other three quarters, the Bulls are near the top of the league. They are second (first quarter), third (second quarter) and fourth (third quarter) in opponent scoring in the first three periods.

I apologize that last sentence was confusing, let me say it another way. The Bulls are a top four defensive team through the first three quarters, and then drop all the way to tenth. It is fascinating that the Bulls get worse and worse throughout the game. I can’t be the only one drawing connections from heavy minutes for starters to lackluster fourth quarter play.

The Bulls were sloppy in the fourth against Utah, shooting 20.8 percent in the quarter, while allowing the Jazz to shoot 43.8 from the field. Luckily the Bulls brought down nine rebounds to salvage the game and escape with the win.

The biggest thing for the Bulls to keep up for all four quarters will be their defense. Despite struggling to win games this season, the Lakers offense has been quite good; it’s the defense that has been letting them down, and with Dwight Howard coming back into form, that is improving as well. Los Angeles is eight in offensive rating and just 21st in defensive rating.

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