Lakers vs. Bulls Game Preview: Lakers Looking To Extend Winning Streak
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With the return of their top three point guards, the Los Angeles Lakers return home after an impressive 2-1 road trip. While Kendall Marshall played extremely well during their absences, the Lakers finally had stability in the backcourt and it showed in their two performances. Unfortunately, the team lost two of their best scorers in Nick Young and Jodie Meeks to injuries.

While the injuries continue to pile on for the Lakers, they host the Chicago Bulls who are looking to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference without Derrick Rose once again. In the teams’ first meeting in Chicago on January 20, the Lakers made big plays down the stretch, but fell short as Taj Gibson’s layup at the buzzer lifted the Bulls, 102-100.

Frontcourt:
In the first meeting, the Lakers could not stop Joakim Noah and he exploded for 17 points, 21 rebounds, and 6 assists. While the Bulls are looking forward to next season, Noah has continued his strong play and is averaging a double-double once again with 11.5 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. In order for the Lakers to win, the bigs will need to match Noah’s energy and keep him off the boards.

With Carlos Boozer a game-time decision, Taj Gibson has had a fantastic season off the bench. While Boozer has started all of the games, head coach Tom Thibodeau has elected to go with the fifth-year forward out of USC down the stretch. Although he didn’t shoot particularly well against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday, Gibson had 26 points, 13 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 46 minutes.

After trading Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the biggest beneficiary of this move was Mike Dunleavy. While he has played well throughout the season, Dunleavy has struggled over his past five games. With the Bulls shorthanded, Dunleavy has played 33.0 minutes and it has caught up with him. The forward is only averaging 8.6 points while shooting 27 percent from the field and 16 percent from beyond the three-point line.

Backcourt: 
While Kirk Hinrich starts for the Bulls, he usually splits his minutes with D.J. Augustin. Although Hinrich has had a poor season, he had a solid performance against the Suns as he finished with 15 points on 7-11 shooting. However, the Lakers will have to worry about Augustin off the bench. In their first meeting, Augustin finished with 27 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. With Augustin outperforming Hinrich, he will likely play major minutes against the Lakers.

Joining Hinrich/Augustin in the backcourt is Jimmy Butler. Primarily known as a defender, Butler has been more aggressive on the offensive end with Rose out and Deng no longer with the team. Although he doesn’t shoot a great percentage from the field, he is a type of player who can explode at any time. In the past five games, Butler is averaging 15.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.0 steals.

Keys to Lakers Victory: 
Defensive Glass:  For the Lakers to be successful, they have to keep Noah and Gibson off the boards. With the Lakers shorthanded in the frontcourt, teams have been attacking them and both Sacre and Kaman have gotten into foul trouble. The Lakers have consistently been out-rebounded by opposing teams, even in the last two victories. While the Cavaliers and 76ers didn’t really have any post threats, the bigs will need to make sure they match the energy of the Bulls’ frontcourt.

Ball Movement:  While the Bulls are last in the league in scoring, they remain one of the best defensive teams. Although they aren’t as talented as they were in past years, they still have the ability to clamp down on teams for periods of time. While the ball movement has been solid, the Lakers will need to protect the basketball and be patient in their offensive sets.

Limiting Points In The Paint: For much of the season, the Lakers have struggled defending the paint. With no real rim protector, teams have been taking it into the paint against the Lakers with ease. While the Bulls don’t have one offensive threat the Lakers need to focus on, guard penetration and easy putbacks have to be limited.

Chicago Bulls (24-25) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (18-32)
12:30 PM PST, February 9, 2014
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: ABC
Radio: ESPN
Radio 710 ESPNLA

Bulls Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Kirk Hinrich
SG: Jimmy Butler
SF: Mike Dunleavy
PF: Taj Gibson
C: Joakim Noah

Key Reserves: PG D.J. Augustin, SG Tony Snell, C Nazr Mohammed

Lakers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Steve Nash
SG: Steve Blake
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ryan Kelly
C:  Robert Sacre

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Chris Kaman Finally Getting Some Playing Time With Pau Gasol Out

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