The Chicago Bulls (19-49) play host to LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers (30-36) at the United Center tonight. These two teams met earlier this year in Los Angeles (January 15) with the Lakers winning, 107-100. LA's young trio of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma put on quite a show that night to lead the Lakers. Ball finished with team-high 19 points, including 13 in the third quarter, to go along with 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. Ingram tallied 16 points, 9 rebounds and 7 dimes, while Kuzma posted his 20th career double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Veteran shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope also chipped in 17. Six Bulls notched double-figures as well, led by Lauri Markkanen's 17 points. The Lakers' defense held Chicago to just 40.2% shooting, including 29.0% from three-point range, while they connected to the tune of 46.3% from the field. The Lakers also won the battle of the boards, 51-46. It was LA's fourth straight win over the Bulls.
LeBron James didn't play in that first get together due to injury, but he's supposed to take the floor tonight determined to direct LA to a much needed win and snap his team's current five-game losing streak. If that is to happen, James, however, will have to do it without the help of Ball (left ankle injury) and Ingram (blood clot in right shoulder), each of whom recently was shut-down for the rest of this season. Kuzma also might miss tonight's contest with a right ankle injury he suffered last week. The second-year forward couldn't answer the bell in LA's last two games, and his availability tonight was very much up-in-the-air as of this writing.
As for the Bulls, they also are looking to snap a losing streak—two games—after getting swept by the Detroit Pistons over the weekend in a home-and-home series. Chicago's leading scorer, Zach LaVine (23.8 PPG), might not be able to play either as he was forced to sit Sunday against the Pistons due to a flare up of right knee patellar tendonitis. LaVine and the team are planning to see how he feels this afternoon before deciding whether or not he can jump back into action against the Lakers.
In order for Chicago come out on top tonight they're going to need to remain focused and aware of where James is on the floor at all times. Even at the ripe old age of 34, the four-time league MVP is very capable of taking a game over at any moment, and thus it'll take a team effort to slow him down and force someone else wearing purple and gold to do something special.
In LA's last game against Boston Saturday at the Staples Center, James exploded for his seventh triple-double (30 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists) this season, while rookie center Moritz Wagner added 22 points and Johnathan Williams chipped in 18 and 10 boards off the bench. As a team, the Lakers shot 48.0% from the field, but hit just 5-for-27 (18.5%) from deep. The Celtics came out spitting fire early in the third quarter to take total command, eventually blowing out the Lakers 120-107.
Meanwhile, Chicago was on a recent hot streak, winning five of six before cooling off in a hurry in losing four of their last five games, including an embarrassing loss in Detroit Sunday, 131-108. Wayne Selden Jr. came off the bench to lead the Bulls with 18 points, while Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr. each recorded 17. As a team, Chicago shot 50.0% from the field (41-for-82) and 9-for-18 (50%) from behind the arc before ultimately losing their way in getting outscored 42-25 in the third, and falling 23 points short by the time the final buzzer sounded.
To right the ship the Bulls will need to play fast and selflessly, making the ball freely jump from side-to-side and from player-to-player and getting everyone involved in the action. They're going to need to force the Lakers to not only defend the paint but also pay attention to shooters hovering out on the perimeter.
Collectively, the Bulls need to sport a hardnosed firmness, establishing a will to be physical and dogged at both ends of the floor.
To make life easier for themselves the Bulls continuously need to tap into their wealth of speed and athleticism. They have to get after it on the boards, too, so that they can dictate a fast paced game. In fighting to grab every missed shot they can get a hand on they'll open the door to immediately run down the floor to post easy scores before the defense has time to set up.
Simply put, from the opening tip until the final buzzer, the Bulls need to commit to outhustling and out-executing each and every opponent to come out on top at the end of the evening.