Who: Chicago Bulls (10-6) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (9-10)
Where: United Center, Chicago, IL
When: 7:00pm CST
On: Comcast Sports Net
It was just ten short days ago that the Bulls and Lakers faced off at the Staples Center during the early part of the annual Circus Trip. The Bulls were on the second night of a back-to-back, having lost a gut-wrenching contest against the Clippers, and played the game against the Lakers without a resting Dwyane Wade. Despite all that, the Bulls muscled their way to a 118-110 victory behind a heroic 40 point night from Jimmy Butler.
And Wade may not be available tonight either, as he’s recovering from a recent dental procedure.
But beyond that, the circumstances ahead of Wednesday’s rematch all seem to tilt in Chicago’s favor. The schedule Gods provided three days of rest to the weary Bulls before their return to the United Center, and this time the Lakers will be playing their second consecutive game after getting romped by the Pelicans on Tuesday.
When these two teams last met, the Lakers were one of the surprise positive stories of the young season. Luke Walton infused some Warriors magic into his young roster and people wondered if the Lakers could contend for the eighth seed in a weaker-than-typical Western Conference. Unfortunately, the Lakers could not make it through the first month of the season before turning back into pumpkins. In their last five games, LA ranks 23rd and 28th in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively.
A big part of their decline can be attributed to a rash of injuries to key rotation pieces. Julius Randle, who will play against Chicago, missed time with a hip injury. D’Angelo Russell is dealing with lingering knee pain that will keep him out of tonight’s game. Nick Young suffered a scary Achilles injury against New Orleans that hopefully will not sideline His Swagginess long term, but will keep him from taking the United Center floor.
The Lakers were not able to slow down Jimmy with a full compliment of players, and will likely struggle again to contain the red hot Butler without Young, who has been a surprisingly competent wing defender thus far. I expect Luol Deng will play more than the 24 minutes per game he’s averaging this season as he looks to be the only Laker with a realistic chance of stopping Butler. I’m excited to see these friends matched up against each other all night in a battle Jimmy will more than likely win.
Lou Williams figures to see the majority of the minutes at point guard with Russell nursing his knee, and his matchup with Rajon Rondo will be frustrating to watch. Williams is one of the better penetrating guards in the league despite not being the most athletic. He uses a variety of herky-jerky dribble moves to scoot past his defender to get to the rim, where he’s shooting an impressive 64% this year. Rondo, not known for his competitive spirit on defense, is going to lazily poke for steals all night that will allow Lou to waltz to the rim.
Something to keep an eye on early on is the pace at which the game is being played. The Bulls, despite the hopes and dreams of their head coach, rank just 21st in pace this season per NBA.com. The youthful Lakers are playing with the fourth highest pace in the league and will look to push the ball at every opportunity. This could prove to be a game where the Bulls overaggressive offensive rebounding strategy comes back to hurt them.
The Laker I’m most looking forward to watching is Julius Randle. After a lost rookie season due to injury and a disappointing sophomore campaign, Randle is finally coming into his own under the tutelage of Walton. The new Lakers coach is trying to turn Randle into a Draymond Green-lite as the center in small ball lineups that open the floor for his drives to the basket. And while Randle is nowhere near the defender that Green is, his athleticism allows the Lakers to employ a switching scheme on defense that the NBA at large has struggled to figure out. The continuing growth of Randle’s game is crucial to the long term success of the rebuilding Lakers.