[Thanks to Tommy for today's game preview. -yfbb]
Gametime: 12:30 PM PT/ 2:30 PM CT
Staples Center, LA
As the Bulls continue to wade through the dregs of the Eastern Conference on their way to a sixth consecutive playoff berth, fueled primarily on Tom Thibodeau's maniacal defensive schemes and Joakim Noah's All-Star play, they occasionally have to make reality check pit-stops against the much more difficult Western Conference. A combined 6-13 versus the West this year, it is some consolation that Sunday's match-up is with the lowly Los Angeles Lakers. Currently floundering as the 3rd worst team in the West, the Lake Show has been truly awful this year. As a Chicago transplant abiding in Los Angeles, I can tell you that this season has brought back some PTSD of ol' Stone Hands and W.H. Parker.
One can't help but note some similarities between the 2nd and 3rd most valuable NBA franchises:
Crushing injuries to star players
While Derrick Rose has begun launching 3-pointers at practice in front of fans, who I can't help but picture with faces pressed up to the glass and dumb grins on their faces, Kobe Bryant continues to recover from a fracture of his lateral tibia plateau. Though Kobe is still targeting this season to prove he can regain his pre-achilles status, the prevailing attitude is that Rose will indeed continue to sit the rest of the regular season and possibly return this summer to international competition for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. Of course, while this season in Chicago began as one with serious title aspirations, Dwight Howard's departure to Houston last offseason all but doomed the Lakers to be bottom-feeders.
Diamond-in-the-Rough Point Guards
Well, diamonds may be a bit of an overstatement but it is worth noting that both teams have found some solid contributions at the point from Kendall Marshall and D.J. Augustin. Marshall began the season without a team having been waived almost immediately by the Wizards following the Marcin Gortat trade. After being re-called from the D-League, Marshall has played in 22 games, averaging a respectable 10.1 pts, 3.1 rbs, and 9.2 assists while shooting a ridiculous 47% from deep. That's up from 31% last season with the Suns.
Darryl Gerard (in case you were wondering), after a truly terrible season in Indiana, was waived by the Raptors prior to the Rudy Gay trade and has had a career resurgence with the Bulls averaging 13.8 pts, 2.0 rbs and 5.7 assists and shooting about 41% from deep. At times, D.J. has been the Bulls' sole scoring threat, doing a fairly decent DRose impression to those sitting in the nosebleeds of the United Center. And then there's the injury-riddled duo of Steve Nash and Kirk Hinrich, both of whom are expected to get minutes on Sunday as well as tell at least one "back in my day" anecdote to their teammates on the bench.
I think it's fair to say that Fredo Buss has had his share of criticism these past couple of years since Dr. Buss passed. From hiring Mike Brown, then hiring Mike D'Antoni and dicking over Phil, the ballyhooed "Stay" billboards last summer, repeated missiles from Magic Johnson and even the Kobe Bryant extension, Jim Buss continues to worry the LA Faithful about their ability to compete in the coming years.
On the other hand, an owner that has been drawing the ire of fans for almost three decades, Jerry Reinsdorf continues to solidify the perception that the Chicago Bulls are simply more committed to their bottom line than a financial commitment to winning. From long ago admitting to under-managing the Bulls, preferring his baseball team over his basketball team, dodging missiles from Derrick Rose's fraternal manager over their willingness to compete, calling his over-achieving squad a "mediocre team," and employing cost-cutting measures prompting some "Major League" mocking by the players, Reinsdorf continues to contribute to my Lexapro prescription. Thanks buddy.
Enough of the similarities. Sunday's game may be a match of attrition more than anything. After garnering headlines versus Cleveland last week for enlightening everyone what happens when foul trouble threatens your ability to put five guys on the court, injuries continue to deplete the Lakers who go into Sunday with likely only nine eligible players. Similarly (okay, last one), the Bulls will also possibly only have nine players thanks to fan-favorite Carlos Boozer tweaking his calf "jumping around" in the locker room before the Warriors game Thursday night. I had to laugh when I saw Tom Thibodeau's specific mention that it was from "jumping around" and not a more generic "hurt during warmups." A subtle dig following Boozer's complaints from his fourth quarter minutes? I like to think that Boozer had to cringe at beat-writer Nick Friedell's reminder of the bag-tripping incident before the 2010 season. Things are going swimmingly for Carlos, who is sure to get a nice shove out the door when he is amnestied this summer. Let the negative publicity campaign continue.
The Lakers are coming off two wins against the equally dismal Sixers and Cavaliers and are looking to match their season high with three in a row. Things have been looking up with the return of Steve Nash who, after turning 40 on Friday, torched Philadelphia with 19 pts, 4 rbs and 5 assists in only his eighth game this season. The Bulls seek to return to Chicago with a .500 record on this six-game road trip, with wins against San Antonio and Phoenix and losses against New Orleans, Sacramento and the aforementioned Golden State Warriors. The Bulls are only 3-13 against the Lakers at the Staples Center in the past several seasons.
Meanwhile, trade rumors overshadow both teams. Both had been frontrunners for Andrew Bynum's easily-shed contract with Cleveland. We all know how that turned out...(Sorry Lu). As the Bulls continue to shed salary, Taj Gibson, Captain Kirk and Mike Dunleavy seem to be generating the most talk and interest around the league. The Lakers also seem committed to moving Pau Gasol, a recurring theme from last year, and the Phoenix Suns seem to be the most mentioned suitor. Whether or not his groin injury, expected to sideline him through the All-Star break, has scared them off remains to be seen. Either way, both teams have to be somewhat desensitized to all the rumors by now.
The remaining roster and injury report is as follows.
BULLS PROJECTED STARTERS
PG - Kirk Hinrich
SG - Jimmy Butler
SF - Mike Dunleavy
PF - Taj Gibson
C - Joakim Noah
Possibles: Carlos Boozer (DTD with his calf strain)
Out: Tornike Shengelia (Not currently with the team dealing with a death in the family), Derrick Rose (ugh)
LAKERS PROJECTED STARTERS
PG - Steve Nash
PG/SG - Steve Blake
SF - Wesley Johnson
PF - Ryan Kelly
C - Robert Sacre
Possibles: Jordan Farmar (DTD with hamstring injury)
Lastly, just want to remind everyone of the cyclical nature of professional sports. Just think of that parallel universe. Phew.