[Thanks to Easy Eis for today's preview -yfbb]
Merry Christmas Bulls fans! It's December 25th, which means it's time for the NBA's equivalent of the NFL's Thanksgiving: A holiday smorgasbord of athletic contests. While some of the matchups may be less anticipated than years past (Wizards vs. Knicks comes to mind), there's still plenty of basketball to be enjoyed today. The Bulls were fortunate enough to receive a primetime slot against the Lakers at home this year, which comes as a very tasty matchup given the latter's struggles this season.
Okay, ignore the Kobe-less beatdown of the Warriors (!!!) on Tuesday night for a second. Unless you've been living beneath a rock for the last couple of months, you're probably aware that the Lakers are bad, and they haven't been this bad since... well, last season. Their record stands at 9-19 right now for a plethora of reasons. While their offensive efficiency rating sits right in the middle of the league (104.0, 15th overall), they post a defensive efficiency rating of 110.2 which was DEAD LAST in the NBA until Tuesday. They also have a rebounding rate of 48.4 that ties them with Phoenix and Atlanta for 26th, and a true shooting percentage of 52.1%, good for 24th in the NBA. Any way you slice it, this team is bad.
However, it's fair to say they were dealt a bad hand to start the season. Steve Nash was ruled out for the year (again) in July due to a back injury he aggravated while lifting luggage. You'd feel bad for him until you remember he's getting paid $9.3 million this season to ride pine. Also, the Lakers expected lottery pick Julius Randle to contribute early given the departure of Pau Gasol (thanks!) and relative lack of frontcourt depth (or any depth, for that matter). That dream departed when Randle broke the tibia in his right leg during the season opener. From there on out, the Lakers quickly spiraled into utter chaos. Kobe Bryant is having an absolutely abysmal season from an efficiency standpoint, averaging 24.6 ppg on 37.2% shooting and 27.4% from 3. He also is averaging 4.5 turnovers during the month of December and his greatest highlights have come from calling his teammates "soft like Charmin" in practice (not a game, not a game). Did I mention he's making $23.5 million this year? His salary is an albatross akin to that of Jay Cutler, maybe even worse. His teammates haven't been much better. Outside of a crazy game-winner against the Spurs, Nick Young's season has mainly revolved aroundridiculous swag quotes and now even more ridiculous Christmas presents from bae Iggy Azalea. Robert Sacre's best moments have literally come from the bench rather than off it. And I'm sure all of you have kept up with the Booze News:
Make no mistake, this should be an easy win for the Bulls, and anything less than that should be considered a disappointment. Given Jimmy Butler's offensive ascension and continued defensive prowess, the Kobe woes should continue and that should keep the Lakers' offense in check. Even if Pau comes out timid against his former team, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and Nikola Mirotic will be aiming to have an absolute field day against the vastly inferior Laker bigs. Look for Boozer in particular to get torched should he get matched up with Mirotic at any point. Mike Dunleavy should be more than capable of defending Nick Young, and none of the other Laker wings really present a significant threat. Derrick Rose will do Derrick Rose things, and it's worth noting that the last time he played on Christmas he hit a ridiculous game winning floater over none other than Pau Gasol.
But there is something to consider here: The Lakers really are a better team when Kobe has sat this season. When Kobe is in the game, the Lakers' offensive and defensive efficiency ratings are 101.5 and 114.8, respectively. Prior to Tuesday, when he is out of the game, their ratings are 109.4 and 98.3, which is an enormous difference of -7.9 and -16.5, respectively. Granted, the sample size of Bryant's on court minutes is nearly three times the size of his off-court time, but it doesn't take an optometrist to see that Kobe chokes the life out of his team whenever he plays while Byron Scott looks on like a helpless child watching their
season goldfish get flushed down the toilet. Kobe becomes an inefficient chucking bottleneck for their entire offense whenever he plays, and you can bet that this does wonders for the morale of his teammates as indicated by the difference in defensive efficiency. So here's to hoping we see the Black Mamba rear his ugly head this evening.
Either way, this should be a nice Christmas present late in the day for Bulls fans around the country. So sit back, crack open an eggnog, and enjoy what should be a great win for Chicago.