[Thanks to Stacy_Is_King for today's game preview (sign up!) A little late being made, and later by me putting up. Bad job all-around (and you guys get excused since I don't offer anything but the bright lights of the front page), but better late than never.
Game is at 9:30 on CSNChicago locally, and NBATV nationally -ed.]
Quick Note: I planned to putting up the preview ~3 hours before show-time. But since people get restless around here [ed. note: Yeah, I should put a drop-dead time in advance from now on, we had 2 random other previews when they saw nothing was up in the afternoon], I guess I made a mistake. If I had known it should've been up earlier, I would've done it yesterday. I'm sorry, guys. I'll post it earlier next time.
Fact: The Bulls have been playing great lately. I think we can all agree that, although there's been a few hiccups along the way, bringing a 2-1 circus-trip record into Laker-town isn't something to dread. The only problem is, well, this is Laker-town. And the Lakers have been the best team so far this season, without a doubt. Does that mean we don't have a chance? Well, let's continue after the jump.
What have the Lakers been doing well?
For one, their offense has been stellar. They lead the league in Offensive Efficiency by a decent margin (they're 4.4 points ahead of the 2nd place Spurs. For perspective, 4.4 points is the difference between the 13th best team, the Bulls, and the 26th best team, the Sixers). It hasn't really surprised anyone, because everyone has pretty much known that they've always had this potential.
They're also shooting 3's extremely well: 2nd in 3P% and 5th in 3PA. For reference, when we lost to the Spurs (the 2nd best offensive team), they only attempted 13 threes and shot 46% (about 18ppg off of 3's). However, the Lakers attempt 21 threes per game and shoot 43%, which is about 27ppg off of 3's alone. What worries me is the fact that the only team we've played that is even close to the Lakers offensively are the Spurs. We almost won that game, but in the end they had too many weapons and we couldn't get enough stops to get close (the next-best offensive team we faced were the Celtics. I'm sure you all remember that loss). If you take away Parker, made Manu even better, and subtracted several years from Duncan's age, you'd have the Laker's starting lineup.
The Lakers have also been rebounding very well, as you'd expect with the frontcourt they have. However, this doesn't concern me as much as their potent offense. Simply put, we're a better rebounding team (2nd in the league) than they are (4th in the league). However, with Taj out (or if he plays, not playing to his full ability), I'm worried that we'll end up being heavily outrebounded. Although it's probably common snese, the Asik-Noah combo will probably need to be implemented considerably more than in any other game. The only downside is that I'm not sure Asik can guard Odom or Gasol, especially without fouling.
What have the Bulls been doing well?
As we all know, the Bulls have been a good defensive team thus far in the season. We allow 98.2ppg on the season (if you decided to throw out the aberration Knicks game, we'd be at 87.3, the lowest in the league) and we have a Defensive Efficiency of 100.5, 9th in the league. Pretty much everyone on our roster has played better than last year minus Deng, our defense and our offense have improved, and we've been performing much better than expected. Our offense has looked sublime for stretches, and our defense has looked even better, completely shutting down teams when we've needed to and keeping us in games we would've been blown out in last year (see: Detroit, Dallas, San Antonio, and New York games. Even though we didn't win all of those, we still kept it competitive until the end. Blowouts littered the circus trip last year).
What do the Bulls have to do to win?
Our only, only chance of winning is to play the same D that held San Antonio to 37 points in the first half, and held Detroit to 9 points in the 4th quarter. In all of our losses, we've fallen behind in either the 2nd or 3rd quarter, and forced ourselves to play catch-up the rest of the way. If we want to pull this one out, we've got to play with the same defensive effort and intelligence (perhaps more intelligence than effort, even). I have no doubt that if we can somehow keep pace with the Lakers throughout the game, we can manage to beat them by a couple buckets.
This next idea may surprise you, but I believe that Deng and the rest of our bench are more important in this game than Rose. My meaning behind that is usually when Rose has a huge game, it's only because he's compensating for the lack of help from his comrades. In the Spurs game, he had an awesome night: 33 points on 60%TS. However, Deng went 6-17 for 18 points. Bogans only had 3, and C.J had 6 points on 6 shots. We need production from every corner of our roster if we want this one. I'd be OK with a 24-8 game from Rose as long as everyone else pitched in. And for this game, Noah will be vitally important. We can't afford to lose too many possessions to the Lakers, so the more offensive putbacks, the better. It's a pretty huge expectation, but I'm honestly hoping for a 20-20 night from Noah.
Worst case scenario: Deng goes 1-14 and Rose is forced to carry us, again. If that happens, he'll need to drive to the lane on every single possession. Gasol is playing like an MVP right now, so if we can somehow get Rose to put him into foul trouble, we'll be in good shape. Fisher can't stay in front of him, and neither can Brown, so this is the perfect opportunity for him to feast.
Another plan I think we should implement is starting Brewer over Bogans, or at least giving him heavy minutes. He's a decent ball handler and is decent in the paint. We can't allow Kobe to take a break on defense, allowing him to conserve energy for his offensive game. We just can't afford it.
(Not surprisingly, there's a lot we can't afford to let the Lakers do in this game)
It'd be disrespectful of the Blog-A-Bull gods (Matt) to predict a win for this one. Plus, it's always nice to lower your expectations and get surprised with a win.
With that said, my prediction is that Rose does a back-flip 720-dunk on Gasol at the buzzer, slaying 3 virgins in the process and forcing Kobe to retire. 102-100, Bulls.
Head on down to Silver Screen and Roll where you can read as the Lakers prepare for their most debilitating loss of their season. Go Bulls!