For the second time in four days, the Lakers (37-38) take on the Bulls (36-39), looking to get revenge from their Sunday matchup and to start their five-game road trip off on the right foot. The game tips at 5:00 p.m. PT on Spectrum SportsNet and 710 ESPN radio.
Below are three things to know ahead of the matchup:
A ONE-GAME SAMPLE
After LeBron James made his surprising return to the lineup on Sunday, D'Angelo Russell is likely to join him Monday night as the Lakers have listed him as probable to return to the lineup after missing the last two contests with right hip soreness.
Russell's return would allow the Lakers to field their most complete roster in weeks, only missing Mo Bamba who continues to sit out after suffering a right ankle sprain on March 5th.
Should Russell play, it will mark only the 3rd game he and LeBron will share the floor together, and only their 2nd in which they would see meaningful minutes as a duo after Russell sprained his ankle early in the 2/23 game vs. the Warriors that cut their court time together short.
In that lone game both Russell and LeBron played together for extended minutes, the Lakers beat the Pelicans handily, led by a strong performance from their starting lineup anchored by LeBron, Anthony Davis, and Russell. When those three shared the court, the Lakers boasted a +12.1 net rating and controlled the game defensively while hinting at the type of offensive versatility the team can have with their primary shot creators all playing together.
Building on that initial performance and forging as much chemistry as possible among that trio is of major importance as the team looks to close the season strong in their hunt for a postseason berth.
SLOWING IT DOWN
The season-long stats will tell you the Laker play at the 3rd fastest pace in the league, averaging nearly 102 possessions a game -- just a shade below the Thunder and Warriors. But, those numbers don't tell the story of a Lakers team that has slowed its pace considerably in recent weeks.
Over their last 15 games, the Lakers have dipped below the 100 possessions a game mark, with a pace of 99.6 -- placing them right in the middle of the NBA at 15th fastest over that stretch. Related to playing at a slower pace, the Lakers have also seen a decline in both their fastbreak points per game and their points scored in the paint per game over that same stretch:
- Fastbreak points per game (season): 16.3, 4th in the NBA
- Fastbreak points per game (last 15): 13.7, 17th in the NBA
- Points in the paint per game (season): 54.2, 7th in the NBA
- Points in the paint per game (last 15): 47.5, 23rd in the NBA
Getting LeBron back can and will help both sets of these numbers. As one of the NBA's best transition players and a rim-seeking scorer in both the open and half court, he can singlehandedly lift a team's production in both areas. And getting Anthony Davis more involved offensively -- AD had eight shot attempts vs. the Bulls on Sunday -- can also help, particularly for paint scoring.
All of these numbers are connected, though. So, if the Lakers hope to climb back up the ranks of paint scoring and fastbreak points, getting back to playing with more pace than they have lately is one place to start.
REMATCH WITH BULLS
Sunday's loss against the Bulls came about for many reasons, but key among them were the Bulls taking advantage of the Lakers turnovers (34 points on 18 TO's) and the key run they went on to begin the 2nd quarter where they ballooned their lead to double digits behind excellent outside shooting and offensive rebounding.
In looking forward to today's game, cleaning up these specific areas can go a long way towards changing the outcome. Accounting for their ability to pressure the ball and their want to jump passing lanes while tracking the Bulls' shooters while gang rebounding on the defensive glass vs. their bench groups are important measures that can be taken in pursuit of these goals.
Additionally, seeking out ways to pressure the paint and score inside can help loosen up the Bulls (more recently) stingy defense. Getting Anthony Davis more involved against Chicago's center rotation, leveraging LeBron's size advantage in the post against some of Bulls smaller wing defenders, and using the extra attention both draw are potential ways to break through vs. their high-pressure defensive approach.
On the other side of the floor, the Lakers' defensive plan still begins with slowing down Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. LaVine was excellent in Sunday's matchup, and finding ways to better contain him off the dribble are a priority. Similarly, DeRozan shot efficiently on his jumpers, but continuing to challenge and contest those shots while trying to limit his touches overall (only 13 field goal attempts on Sunday) is a worthwhile approach.