The last couple weeks have been good times for the Bulls.
They’ve won four of their last five games — including legit wins over the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks — and currently have a 2-1 record on their annual circus trip of horrors. They’re leading the Central Division and are currently ranked 5th in the Team Power Rankings put out by ESPN’s John Hollinger, which factor in scoring margin, strength of schedule, recent performance and home versus road games.
All without Carlos Boozer.
[Insert record screech here]
The Bulls have been playing well and were one horrific third quarter away from beating the Spurs in San Antonio on the second night of back-to-backs. But this Lakers team is something else again. They rank 1st in PPG (112.5) and Offensive Rating (117.6). They rank 12th in Defensive Rating (105.8), which isn’t great, but it’s good enough considering how efficient they are on offense.
That efficiency starts with…not Kobe Bryant. Despite playing his fewest MPG (32.6) since his second year in the league, Kobe has still managed to squeeze off enough shots to lead the league in field goal attempts (279). However, Bryant isn’t shooting the ball at a superstar level: Only 43 percent overall and a mere 30 percent from downtown.
Believe it or not, Pau Gasol has emerged as L.A.’s best player. Gasol averaging 22.8 PPG on 56 percent shooting to go with 12.1 RPG, 4.1 APG and 1.7 BPG. He currently leads the league in Player Efficiency Rating (27.6), Offensive Win Shares (2.5) and Total Win Shares (3.3). Gasol also ranks 2nd in Total Defensive Rebounds, 2nd in Total Rebounds, and 3rd in Rebounds Per Game. He’s 3rd in Offensive Rating and 8th in Field Goal Percentage.
Bottom line: Dude is awesome.
Gasol and Lamar Odom (14.6 PPG, 58% FGP, 10.6 RPG, 3.9 APG) may be the most fearsome frontcourt tandem in the league. Throw in the continuing all-around brilliance of Bryant (25.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.8 APG), the defense of Ron Artest, the veteran leadership and three-point shooting of Derek Fisher (58% from downtown), not to mention off-the-bench contributions from Shannon Brown (11.1 PPG, 52% FGP, 51% on threes), Matt Barnes (47 % on threes) and Steve Blake (also 47% on threes)…
…and you have one seriously stacked team.
The Bulls are a solid defensive team — currently 9th in Defensive Rating (103.2) and holding opponents to 92.7 PPG in their last six games — but I’m not sure how they’re going to be able to guard every offensive threat the Lakers have without being allowed to play with six or seven guys.
The one hope I’m hanging my hat on is that L.A.’s early schedule has been a little soft around the edges and gooey in the middle. To wit, 10 of their 11 wins have come against .500 or sub-.500 teams: Houston (3-10), Phoenix (7-7), Golden State (7-7), Memphis (5-9), Sacramento (4-9), Toronto (5-9), Minnesota (4-11), Milwaukee (5-8), Detroit (5-8), Minnesota (again) and Golden State (also again).
And the Rockets (112-110), Raptors (108-103) and Timberwolves (99-94) all gave the Lakers close calls in L.A.
So maybe not all is lost. But the Bulls sure have their work cut out for them.