Lakers-Bulls Preview: The Season Begins

The NBA season finally starts on Sunday with a beautiful set of games. The New York Knicks and Boston Celtics tip off the season, and then the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks face off in a rematch of their great finals series. But after those chump match-ups the good stuff starts. Chicago opens their season against the Los Angeles Lakers (later on, the Magic take on the Thunder and the new look Clippers face the Warriors).

Thirteen years ago, on Christmas morning I sat disappointed. The Mortal Kombat characters I wanted were not under the tree. Santa must not have gotten my letter. I’d have to go another year playing with Legos (it was a very tough year). But on this Christmas, that won’t be the case. I won’t even have to find anything to play with, because the NBA, the three greatest letters when put together, is finally back.

Chicago was supposed to start the season against the defending champs in early November, but we’ll have to settle for watching Chicago against last year’s second seed in the West.

The teams split their two matchups in the 2010-2011 season with each squad winning at home. Rose averaged 29.5 points, 8.5 assists and five rebounds in the two games. Chicago lost the first game in LA early in the season, while they were still without newly added/accident-prone Carlos Boozer.

When the teams met in Chicago, the Bulls were at full strength and won 88-84. This was Chicago’s only win against the Lakers in Derrick Rose’s career. Boozer was the leading rebounder with eleven. But both times the Lakers were without Andrew Bynum.

That will once again be the case when the Bulls and Lakers meet on Christmas Day. Bynum is suspended for the first four games (originally five, but later reduced) for destroying J.J. Barea in the playoffs (I actually think it was three games for the hit on Barea and one game for inexplicably taking off his shirt when he was leaving the court). That means the Lakers only get 62 games of Andrew Bynum this year, or more exactly 12, because he is bound to be injured for most of the season.

Lamar Odom played well while stepping into the starting lineup for Bynum last year, averaging 19.5 points and eight rebounds against Chicago, all while putting up with Khloe Kardashian. But now he’s on the Mavericks, leaving the Lakers with a hole in their starting line-up (well, a hole in addition to the cadaver that is Derek Fisher). Derrick Caracter is the back-up center on the depth chart, but L.A. could move Pau Gasol over to center, and start Josh McRoberts. Neither situation is particularly pretty for Los Angeles.

Center could become a less significant worry if Kobe Bryant isn’t at 100 percent. Bryant missed the Lakers final preseason game with a torn ligament in his right wrist. He said he will play in the Christmas game though. “It’s always been in my nature to try to figure out a way to play,” Bryant said. “The injuries that I’ve had, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to play through them because I haven’t had injuries where they could get worse the more I played on them.” Kobe will have to shoulder a big load without Bynum, and with no Odom to fill his shoes.

Ron Art Metta World Peace has not been having a good preseason. Coming off the bench both games, he shot 0-8 in game one and 4-13 in the second game. World Peace might have reached the point of being just a joke, rather than a joking, good player.

Staring down Bryant at the shooting guard position will be a new face for the Bulls. Rip Hamilton is expected to start. In Hamilton’s first showing as a Bull he impressed, scoring 13 points, and adding four rebounds and six assists.

It was easy to tell the difference between Hamilton and the old Keith Bogans. Hamilton rarely stopped moving and quickly made the right decision when he got the ball in his hands.

Carlos Boozer also made his debut in the last preseason game…wait he played for the Bulls all last year? Well that didn’t go as planned. But against the Pacers, Boozington scored (24 points on 11-17 shooting), grabbed seven rebounds and had three assists. He nearly fouled out as well, but those points are the most important thing. His mid-range jumper was falling, which is something Chicago will need all year if they want a chance to beat the Heat.

It wasn’t all good news from Boozington, he did allow Tyler Hansbrough to score 24 points (along with help from other Bulls defenders). Which means Boozington still has the defensive instincts of a hibernating bear.

As a whole the Bulls defense was very good, holding the Pacers to 36.8 percent shooting from the field. And after getting off to a slow start defensively in their first preseason game (allowing Indiana to shoot 60 percent in the first) the Bulls held the Pacers to 5 for 21 in the first quarter of game two.

Chicago did get into some foul trouble, with Taj Gibson fouling out in just 16 minutes, and Boozer ending the game with five fouls in 31 minutes. Rip had four fouls of his own. In preseason game one, Joakim Noah and Omer Asik each had five fouls. These numbers should fall as the season continues and the Bulls get into more of a rhythm.

I am still waiting for the Mortal Kombat action figures I wanted when I was eight, but I think the return of the NBA is the best Christmas present ever. Thanks David Stern, Billy Hunter and all for making it happen; better late than never. Now let’s enjoy the games.

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