The Los Angeles Lakers have seemingly returned to form recently. They’ve won three straight games and seven of nine, but six of those seven wins have come at the friendly confines of Staples Center.
Now they have to keep up this level of play on a five-game road trip that kicks off in Chicago against the Bulls. Both teams will be without their young point guards as Lonzo Ball continues to deal with a sprained knee while Kris Dunn has yet to recover from a concussion.
The Lakers defense has been their calling card in their recent winning ways and that will need to remain against Chicago’s plethora of young scorers.
Nikola Mirotic and Lauri Markkanen are Chicago’s leading scorers and both tall, long, and excellent deep shooters who the Lakers must keep track of at all times. Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma, and Larry Nance Jr. will have to be sharp in their communication and switches otherwise both players are capable of huge nights.
The Lakers will also be reliant on all three offensively. Randle is averaging a double-double during this three-game winning streak, Nance isn’t far off, and Kuzma has regained his scoring mojo.
Chicago is pretty small in the backcourt going with a three guard lineup of the recently returned Zach LaVine, next to Justin Holiday and Jerian Grant who’s stepping in for the injured Dunn.
This is the perfect game for Brandon Ingram to shake off the recent slump he’s been in. The Bulls have no wings who can match his size, but Ingram has lacked the aggression that made him so difficult to stop earlier in the season. He must regain that mindset sooner rather than later.
The Lakers also need more from the point guard position. Tyler Ennis has been average at best as a starter while Alex Caruso has been up and down. Jordan Clarkson has stepped up his playmaking recently and Ingram has also drawn some point guard duties to get the team through this stretch without Ball.
Of course, a matchup with the Bulls means a battle of the Lopez twins. Brook has seen his minutes dip this month as he has only reached the 20 minute mark once in January.
He must do a better job of being efficient offensively as his minutes decline, but most importantly must remain the the Lakers’ rim protector as there really is no one better suited for the role. Keeping his brother off the glass will also be extremely important.
Three Keys to Lakers Victory
Battle of the Bench: The Bulls have some important pieces coming off their bench including Mirotic, Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine, and David Nwaba. The Lakers group of Clarkson, Kuzma, Nance, and Josh Hart provide an excellent match and whichever group comes out on top could spark their team to victory.
Control Pace: The Lakers’ halfcourt offense still leaves a lot to be desired, so getting out in transition remains a must. The ability to do so means their defense would be doing its job of getting stops and creating turnovers. Against a soft Bulls defense, getting easy buckets could lead to a huge scoring night.
No New Stars: In the first meeting, the Lakers almost made Antonio Blakeney into a household name. Making sure someone like Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine, or Ryan Arcidiacono doesn’t have a career night is a must. And it also has been tough for the Lakers to do.
Los Angeles Lakers (18-29) Vs. Chicago Bulls (18-30)
5:00 P.M. PST, January 26, 2018
United Center, Chicago, Illinois
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Tyler Ennis
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Jordan Clarkson, Alex Caruso, Josh Hart, Larry Nance Jr.
Projected Bulls Starting Lineup:
PG: Jerian Grant
SG: Zach LaVine
SF: Justin Holiday
PF: Lauri Markkanen
C: Robin Lopez
Key Reserves: Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine, David Nwaba, Ryan Arcidiacono
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