The Lakers were able to pull off an improbable victory without Kobe Bryant over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday. Now, the team will continue its tradition of playing on Christmas day when they travel to Chicago to take on former Laker Pau Gasol and the Bulls. Bryant is expected to return to the lineup and face off against Gasol for the first time since January 13, 2008.
Frontcourt: Joakim Noah mans the middle and anchors the tough, physical defense of the Bulls. Few players in the league play harder than Noah does, as his intensity is through the roof every time he steps on the court. His leadership and overall skill set makes him one of the elite big men in the NBA. Combined with his tremendous prowess on the defensive end and on the glass, is his excellent vision and passing ability. Noah is a handful for opponents to deal with, and if the Laker bigs don’t match his energy and effort, they will be in for a long night.
Out on the wing is veteran forward Mike Dunleavy, who is an excellent role player for Chicago. Dunleavy is shooting an excellent 39.5 percent from the three-point line this season, and his presence alone allows for more sufficient floor spacing on offense for the Bulls. The 34-year-old competes hard on the defensive end as well, as seemingly every player does under head coach Tom Thibodeau.
Rounding out the frontcourt is, of course, the aforementioned Gasol. The Spaniard is obviously no stranger to the Lakers and their fans, although it remains particularly strange to see him donning the red, black and white colors. Gasol is one of the more skilled big men in the league’s history. He’s able to effectively pass the ball to set up teammates with a scoring opportunity, score from the post with either hand and can step outside and hit open jumpers. However, his individual defense has fallen off as he’s aged. Attacking him on that end could be beneficial for Los Angeles.
Backcourt: Although his numbers this season are down from his career averages, its the first time Derrick Rose has been able to stay relatively healthy in the past few years, which is a comforting sign for Bulls fans. After missing virtually the previous two seasons with separate knee injuries, the 2011 league-MVP continues to work his way back into form, most recently tallying 25 points against John Wall and the Wizards on Tuesday. The athleticism and explosiveness are still there, making it vital for the Lakers to stay in front of him and wall off the paint when he attacks the basket.
Jimmy Butler has improved each year of his young career, but has taken a gigantic leap this season. The 25-year-old has blossomed into an all-star caliber player and is perhaps the leading candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. Butler is averaging 21.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game on 48 percent shooting. He is also an exceptional perimeter defender that will make Bryant work extremely hard for everything he gets.
Keys to Victory:
Share the Ball: The Lakers put on quite the offensive display against Golden State, who ranks first in the NBA in defensive efficiency. They managed to do so by moving the ball and spacing the floor. With Kobe back in the lineup, he is going to look for his shot, but needs to facilitate the ball as well. The Laker offensive attack is much more potent when they spread the wealth.
Strong Effort on the Glass: The Bulls have tremendous size down low with Noah, Gasol and Taj Gibson coming off the bench. Chicago ranks sixth in the league in rebounds per game, making it a tough matchup for the Laker big men, who will be at a size disadvantage. Laker guards will need to come in and help out on the glass in order to minimize second chance opportunities for Chicago while creating some for themselves.
Defensive Pressure: Los Angeles was able to convert 19 turnovers from the Warriors on Tuesday into 23 points. While the amount of points certainly could have been higher in that department, forcing a high amount of turnovers limited a high-octane offense to an extent, giving the Lakers an opportunity to pull off the upset. If they can duplicate that type of effort on the defensive end, they will have a shot to pull off another surprising win.
Los Angeles Lakers (9-19) at Chicago Bulls (19-9)
5:00 PM PST, December 25, 2014
United Center, Chicago, IL
TV: TNT, TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Bulls Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Derrick Rose
SG: Jimmy Butler
SF: Mike Dunleavy
PF: Pau Gasol
C: Joakim Noah
Key Reserves: PG: Aaron Brooks, PF: Taj Gibson, PF: Nikola Mirotic
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Ronnie Price
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ed Davis
C: Jordan Hill
Lakers Vs. Warriors: Byron Scott Talks Team Play Without Kobe