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Derrick is (probably) not playing against the Lakers (32-31) on Sunday, but the Bulls (35-27) have gotten pretty used to that this year. Something else that they're starting to get used to is missing a lot more than just Derrick. Sixth man Taj Gibson, this year's starting point guard Kirk Hinrich, and our starting shooting guard Richard "Rip" Hamilton are all expected to miss this game, too. This just in, according to head coach Tom Thibodeau, "We have more than enough to win." That statement will be put to the test at the Staples Center at 3:30PM Eastern on ABC as the Bulls go for their second win in-a-row.
Thankfully, one player that will suit-up is Jimmy "the Kobe Stopper" Butler. On January 21st, Jimmy B. was matched up on Kobe for a majority of the last Lakers-Bulls game and slowed him to shooting a very un-Kobe-like 7-for-22 for 16 points, in a game that the Bulls were able to win 95-83. The Bulls will need that same kind of defensive effort on Sunday against one of the greatest players in the game.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, the Lakers have been surging recently. They've won three of their last four and seven of their last 10. The Bulls, however, have been a very pedestrian 2-2 in March and 5-5 in their last 10. The Lakers are currently tied with the Jazz for eighth in the West and fighting for their playoff lives. It seems over the last quarter of the season, the Lakers have gotten much better. They're a lot healthier than the Bulls right now and, well, Kobe has been being Kobe.
The Lakers have a two-time MVP at the point in Steve Nash and yet, during this stretch of good play from the Lakers, Kobe has taken it upon himself to take over the team and really become the primary playmaker. While Nash is still averaging nearly seven assists per game, Kobe has brought his average up to nearly six. Additionally, Kobe has been checking the opposing team's point guard because Nash couldn't guard a door. I don't know what he did in Germany, but get me some.
You can also see that Dwight Howard has gotten much healthier recently. He's going to be tough to deal with for the Bulls with his shot-blocking and rebounding. He's gotten his averages up to 16 and 12, and is still averaging nearly 2.4 blocks per game. The Bulls will also have to pay special attention to Nash. With Hinrich most likely not playing, the Bulls don't have that defensive-minded point guard to slow down the ageless Canadian who led the Lakers with 18 points, against Hinrich, the last time they played the Bulls. Oh yeah, Ron Artest is playing, too.
The Lakers are coming off a 118-116 victory over the Raptors in L.A. on Friday. Kobe went off for 41 and the Howard/Nash duo combined for 46. The one bright spot; they did allow the lowly Raptors to shoot 52% and gave up 116 points.
The Bulls are coming off a nice home victory against the Jazz on Friday night. Boozer and Belinelli scored 22 a piece and Joakim Noah pulled down 13 rebounds to go with his nine points. The Bulls also did a good job on defense, holding the Jazz to 20% from beyond the arc and only allowed 88 points.
The Bulls are a very good 17-13 on the road this season, but the Lakers are 21-11 at home. Throw in the injury disparity and signs really start to point to the Lakers winning this game... unless...
Marco Belinelli's 3-pointer a Game-Winner! (via NBA)