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Bulls vs. Lakers Preview: Game 4 of the Circus Road Trip

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The Bulls will return to the Staples Center this evening to complete their back-to-back versus Los Angeles’ other half.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

It was a late one for the Chicago Bulls last night. After a 9:30 PM CT start time, the Bulls didn’t finish their game until roughly midnight CT, and the final result—while predicted to be a loss—still proved to be physically and emotionally draining for Chicago. That’s because the Bulls not only ran out of gas down the stretch, but also because of some questionable officiating that ultimately proved to put the game away for the Clippers. Now, the Bulls will go from “Blake Show” to “Lake Show” this evening, as they will face a sneaky good Los Angeles Lakers team on their second night of a back-to-back.

The Lakers have been a genuine surprise this season to much of the basketball universe. First-year head coach Luke Walton has the team sitting at a hair over .500 with a record of 7-6; which includes victories over the Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets, and even the Golden State Warriors. The offense is humming right now with an offensive efficiency that ranks 8th overall in the NBA and a team true shooting percentage that ranks 3rd among all teams (107.4 and 56.9%, respectively). They are also currently one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA, with a rebounding rate of 51.8% that ranks 6th highest in the association. They are a better defensive rebounding team than the Bulls according to advanced statistics, but the Bulls are still far and away the best offensive rebunding team in basketball and still have a slight advantage on the glass overall.

Of course, this is still a very young and inexperienced Lakers squad (despite the veteran presence of our beloved Luol Deng), and thus this team is not without its kinks. They have a defensive efficiency of 106.5 that ranks 24th overall in the NBA, and they also have the 5th worst turnover ratio among all teams. Thus, it will be critical for the Bulls to capitalize on the mistakes of the Lakers and turn them into transition points, something they’ve actually been much better at than expected this season.

From my perspective, there will be two key components in this matchup that I will be keeping an eye on. The first is D’Angelo Russell. Russell did not play on Friday versus the San Antonio Spurs and is questionable for tonight’s game due to knee soreness. Strictly from a basketball fan standpoint, it would be a shame if we didn’t get to see Russell tonight, because he’s been very fun to watch this season. I wrote for BBallBreakdown earlier this year that Kobe’s departure would only serve to improve Russell’s prospects going forward, and so far that’s certainly been the case. In ~27 minutes per game, he’s averaging 16.8 points and 4.7 assists while shooting 39% from beyond the arc on a whopping 6.4 attempts per game.

If Russell is unable to suit up for the Lakers, the Bulls will have a much better shot at pulling out a win, although his absence would also likely result in an uptick in usage for Louis Williams, which could be problematic. Wiliams has been one of the twenty most efficent offensive players in basketball this season according to PER despite playing just under 23 minutes per game. With defensive guard options lacking in both quality and quantity for Chicago, Williams could carve up the Bulls’ defense if given an extended opportunity.

The other player to keep an eye on will be Dwyane Wade. Father Prime played a remarkable first half against the Clippers last night and a pretty great game overall, but he has been pretty bad this season in games where he hasn’t gotten an appropriate amount of rest. In two games on the second night of back-to-backs this season, Wade is shooting 6-26 from the field (0-6 from 3-PT range) and has only five freethrow attempts. In my opinion, Wade should have rested last night against the Clippers to ensure he will be fresh for the last half of the road trip, but alas, that did not happen. Hopefully, Wade will have enough in the tank to keep the Lakers on their heels, but if his production dips and he can’t quite get the lift on his shot that he usually has, Chicago could have problems on offense.

[UPDATE: Wade is sitting tonight]

Normally, I’d be confident in a Bulls victory in this matchup given their recent play, but this being the second game in as many nights (as well as their third in four days) makes this a toss-up. Ultimately, the Bulls will have to win the battle on the boards, capitalize on the mistakes of a young team, and get some better production out of their bench than they had last night in order to come out on top. If they can, then they will head into their final two games of their road trip already having achieved the goal of a .500 split over the six encompassed contests.

Tip is at 8:30 ET on Comcast SportsNet. Doug McDermott and Michael Carter-Williams are still out, while Paul Zipser is day-to-day with a lower back strain. Ivica Zubac is doubtful for the Lakers.