The Bulls return home to the United Center to take on LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers in the first of two meetings scheduled between the two this season. Chicago enters looking to get on track after losing four of their first five games, while LA hits town with visions of extending its current winning streak to six in a row.
In Sunday's contest at Indiana against an undermanned Pacers squad, Chicago fell to 2-5 after losing 108-95. Indiana was missing three of its top players with guard Victor Oladipo, center Myles Turner and power forward Domantas Sabonis forced to the sidelines nursing injuries, and yet the Bulls, came out flat and once again lost the battle on the boards (49-43) for the sixth time in seven outings.
Zach LaVine hit 4-of-8 from downtown to lead Chicago's offense with a team-high 21 points, while second-year big man Wendell Carter Jr. put forth another solid effort with 20 points and 10 boards. That was Carter Jr.'s fourth double/double in his last five outings. Thaddeus Young also came off the bench to contribute 12 points for Chicago.
Defensively the Bulls looked a step slow all afternoon as Indiana's TJ Warren (26 points) and Malcolm Brogdon (22 points) repeatedly blew by defenders. Offensively Chicago seemed to lock itself into running a two-man attack most of the game while the other three players on the court basically stood around and watched. All that did was bog down the offense as the Bulls ended up trailing most of the game.
As for this evening, Chicago's team defense cannot afford a repeat performance in any phase against the high-powered Lakers. Los Angeles will attempt to punish the Bulls in the paint and from midrange. For the most part the Lakers are not a three-point shooting team. They want to play fast by getting into transition at every opportunity and will happily try to outrun and physically beat up Chicago all night long.
To counter this plan, the Bulls need to show up sporting a determined and nasty attitude and demonstrate a willingness to not only stand their ground, but also dole out punishment with plenty of physical play around the hoop. James and Davis can't be allowed to roam free and create havoc. Collectively, Chicago trust one another and defensively keep their heads in the game and understand when to rotate and continuously watch each other's backs.
The Bulls must deny the Lakers the freedom to swing the ball from side-to-side without paying a physical price. Chicago must force LA to work hard for every shot they attempt and must also fight for every rebound and loose ball.
Offensively the Bulls need to come out of the gates fast and stick to their plan throughout the night. They're most effective when they set a fast and explosive pace. To succeed, Chicago must share the ball freely, making it hop from player-to-player and from one side of the court to the other on a consistent basis, making sure everyone gets involved. Doing so will knock LA's defense onto its heels, making defenders scramble and blow assignments often.
Simply put, Chicago cannot allow its offense to morph into a one-on-one competition. In order to outscore the high-octane Californians, the Bulls need to be willing to make the extra pass to unearth open driving lanes to the hoop and unobstructed looks at the rim from beyond the arc. They need to persistently be on the attack at both ends of the floor as well finding a way to get to the free throw line.
Lastly, Chicago simply must hit shots and get bigger contributions from others besides LaVine and Carter Jr.