The Los Angeles Lakers face the Chicago Bulls at the United Center as the only unbeaten team on the road this season.
L.A. is coming off of a statement victory over the Milwaukee Bucks when they burned one of the top Eastern Conference teams with their own red-hot shooting. The defending NBA champions shot a staggering 51.4% from downtown as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope drained seven 3s and LeBron James added another six.
For the Bulls, L.A.’s performance on Thursday is particularly ominous. Chicago ranks among the teams allowing their rivals to enjoy themselves behind the 3-point line and shoot 38.2% against them. The Bulls’ perimeter defense fared even worse when they played the Lakers at Staples Center on Jan. 8 — L.A. ended the night converting 41.4% of their attempted 3s.
Considering Chicago’s opponents score an average of 119.3 points per game against them – the third-worst in the league — the Lakers could be in for another shooting exhibition.
However, the previous meeting between the two teams was a grind for L.A. Zach LaVine erupted for 38 points shooting 63.6% from the field and 57.1% from deep as the Bulls suffered a narrow 117-115 loss.
The Lakers struggled with rim protection and allowed 62 points in the paint – a familiar issue that manifested itself in the victory against Milwaukee and several other games this season.
“We haven’t been very good with our low man, which is our help-side defense,” Anthony Davis said on Thursday. “We’re depending on guys to play 1-on-1 a lot, contain their man. “We’re usually good around the 3-point line, but once they get into the paint guys who are supposed to be in rotations haven’t been there for us.”
The Lakers have been giving up 48.4 points per game in the paint this season, ranking 22nd in the NBA. Even though the Bulls do not usually thrive in the painted area, that is one weakness they could exploit in an attempt to upset L.A.
But the Lakers have to watch their own perimeter, too. The Bulls are the fourth-highest scoring team in the NBA (117.8 points per game, shooting 38.3% from downtown) and LaVine himself is averaging a career-high 27.2 points on 39.2% from deep.
Perhaps the matchup poses the perfect opportunity for Davis, who missed the Jan. 8 clash, to redeem himself following his recent form slump.
“I’m so hard on myself, I think I suck right now,” the forward said after he scored 18 points and added six assists against the Bucks.
Davis was not himself on the offensive end of the floor against the Bucks, although his aggressive drives toward the rim followed by kickbacks out to weakside shooters — executing coach head Frank Vogel’s favorite paint-to-great offense — played the key role in keeping Caldwell-Pope and James hot from the arc.
If Chicago’s defense turns out to be as generous as usual, Davis might finally be able to find a rhythm on offense on Saturday that could lead to a breakthrough he has been looking for this season.
The Bulls will be without Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter Jr.
Lakers(12-4) vs. Bulls(7-8)
6:00 p.m. PT, January 23, 2020
United Center, Chicago, Illinois
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup
PG: LeBron James
SG: Dennis Schröder
SF: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Marc Gasol
Key Reserves: Montrezl Harrell, Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma, Talen Horton-Tucker, Markieff Morris
Projected Bulls Starting Lineup
PG: Coby White
SG: Zach LaVine
SF: Garrett Temple
PF: Lauri Markkanen
C: Thaddeus Young
Key Reserves: Denzel Valentine, Ryan Arcidiacono
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