In case you hadn’t heard, today is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Day, a day in which dreams become both reality and sobering disappointment. A surefire way to describe these two teams if ever I’ve heard one. Coming into tonight’s action, both teams are under .500, LA at 16-25 and the Bulls at 19-20. Two franchises with well-documented championship pedigrees, two teams forced into quick rebuilding projects less than two years after serious championship aspirations. This was supposed to be fun.
Despite their poor records, both these teams have played well as of late. The Lakers, 4-6 in their last ten, have become the latest squad to benefit from the restorative properties of the Eastern Conference, while the Bulls, 6-4 in their last ten, have propelled themselves back into the second tier of “contenders” in the aforementioned East.
After the nuclear fallout surrounding the Marquis Teague trade (to Brooklyn for D-League stalwart/possible energy drink Toko Shengelia), the Bulls will likely dress eleven players, including Cartier Martin, recently resigned to a second 10 day contract, and perennial flotsam Erik Murphy, he of the 41 minutes played in 39 games. This trade should give the front office enough wiggle room under the tax line to audition a few more fringe guys, which will never be something I’m against. Let’s face it: Teague was pretty terrible, anyway. It won’t take much for Toko to prove more useful, a preemptive move for wing depth in the face of the potential Mike Dunleavy trade.
Anyway, as to the game at hand. The Lakers have devastated by injury more than any team in the NBA, to the point where their starting point guard, Kendall Marshall, began the season being cut by the Wizards (a team whose lack of point guard depth borders on the hilarious). That they’ve managed to be occasionally competitive while playing Wes Johnson 20 minutes a game is testament to Mike D’Antoni’s ability to be not completely terrible. Pau Gasol, one of the bright lights in this sports, is regaining his All-Star form after a horrible start to the season, which should certainly prop up his trade value if ever the Lakers decide to do it. The man has proven immortal thusfar. The tank is on in full force for the Lakeshow, but the way they’ve played coupled with the staggering amount of injuries they’ve faced lends them an air of dignity that perhaps someone like Milwaukee or Philadelphia can’t really match.
That being said, there’s still this. So maybe “dignity” isn’t quite the right word.
Chicago Bulls (19-20, 2nd in Central, 6th in Eastern Conference)
C- Joakim Noah: 7th season. 11.7 points per game, 11.0 rebounds.
PF- Carlos Boozer: 12th season. 15.0 points per game, 8.6 rebounds.
SF- Mike Dunleavy: 12th season. 10.8 points per game, 3.8 rebounds.
SG- Jimmy Butler: 3rd season. 12.2 points per game, 4.2 rebounds.
PG- Kirk Hinrich: 11th season. 8.1 points per game, 4.8 assists.
Los Angeles Lakers (15-26, 4th in Pacific, 12th in Western Conference)
C- Pau Gasol: 13th season. 16.3 points per game, 9.8 rebounds.
PF- Ryan Kelly: 1st season. 5.4 points per game, 2.6 rebounds.
SF- Wesley Johnson: 4th season. 8.8 points per game, 3.6 rebounds.
SG- Jodie Meeks: 5th season. 13.9 points per game, 1.7 assists.
PG- Kendall Marshall: 2nd season. 10.6 points per game, 9.2 assists.
Key Matchup: Kirk Hinrich vs Kendall Marshall.
While no one would confuse either of these players for Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant, both are coming off their best respective stretches of the season. Hinrich was great against Washington (everyone was great against Philadelphia), and Marshall’s one of the league leaders in assists over the last few weeks. “Running an offense” is oftentimes code for “really can’t shoot,” but these are two players who, at their best, really don’t need to shoot well to be effective. Though it certainly helps.