Wenyen Gabriel and Dennis Schröder - 3 Things to Know

Three Things to Know: Lakers vs. Bulls 3-26-23

After getting back to .500 on Friday, the Lakers (37-37) play their first in a home-and-home consecutive game set against the Bulls (35-38) for their only two matchups of the season. The game tips at 12:30 p.m. on Spectrum SportsNet and 710 ESPN radio.

Below are three things to know ahead of the matchup -- but before that, a bonus update on LeBron James...

After being listed as out since suffering a right foot tendon injury on February 26th vs. the Mavericks, LeBron James has been upgraded to doubtful for Sunday's game vs. the Bulls. This is LeBron's first status change since suffering the injury and indicates he is getting closer to return.

On Thursday the Lakers provided an update stating LeBron had "started to progress with gradual basketball movement, and with on-court activity" but that there was not yet a "timeline for return". LeBron reaffirmed that on twitter later that same day, noting that he has been "working around the clock, every day (3X a day) to give (himself) the best chance of coming back full strength whenever that is."

BACK TO .500
For the first time in over 400 days, the Lakers are back to .500 in a season, a streak that goes back to January 25, 2022 when the Lakers won in Brooklyn to bring their record to 24-24 on the season.

While the Lakers have bigger goals in mind than reaching this threshold, climbing out of their early season 2-10 hole to get to this point is meaningful. After Friday's win, Coach Ham reflected on what it took to get here while also commenting on what comes next for his team:

"We just have to approach these upcoming games, these last eight like we have been doing here, since the (trade) deadline actually", Ham said. "Each game is its own entity and we can't worry about going 6-2 or 7-1 or 5-3. We just have to approach each game and dive and pour all of ourselves into each particular game. And we'll continue to carry on as such.

"Now it's time, instead of constantly facing a deficit we get to try to create a surplus; create a cushion between wins and losses. The guys are excited about that. Again, they know what's at stake. You look around the league and the standings are constantly changing day in and day out, but as I said, I told them and I'll continuing saying it, 'the first order of business is to take care of our own business', and we just need to keep having these types of performances on both sides of the ball and try to play as complete game as possible."

The Lakers are 7-3 in their last 10 games and are up to the 8th seed in the conference, holding the same record as the 7th seeded Timberwolves -- whom they will play one more time this season on the team's upcoming four game road trip.

With D'Angelo Russell a game day addition to the injury report and ruled out later that afternoon, the need for someone else to step into the rotation and add some production was sorely needed. Lonnie Walker IV, a DNP in the team's previous three games, ended up getting an opportunity to play and stepped right into that void with a 20-point night on 7-of-12 shooting to help the Lakers win.

After the game, Coach Ham spoke about Lonnie's big night and praised him for staying ready after falling out of the rotation in recent weeks:

"(Lonnie) is the definition of what a pro is supposed to do at this level," Ham said. "In terms of keeping himself ready, putting that extra time in in the gym individually, still watching film with the coaches, still getting his rest, still getting his proper nutrition, keeping that great positive attitude that he has, and it showed tonight. He didn't have to worry about getting ready, he's been staying ready. And if he doesn't have that performance, we don't win this game."

Walker IV also spoke about the mindset he's carried during this stretch where his number has not been called as often as it was earlier in the season:

"Every day I've just been in the gym, being positive, understanding what we're trying to accomplish, and just staying ready", Walker said. "I have great people like Coach (Chris) Jent that I talk to almost every other day, even when I have my ups and downs, my teammates have made me not being able to play that much easier. I love these guys and I'm happy to be playing with them. Just taking it day to day and controlling the controllables."

Walker didn't just pour in those points, but contributed four rebounds and three steals, showing a level of preparedness and ability to lock-in that deserves all the praise his coach and teammates showed him after the game.

Lonnie Walker IV Game Highlights 03-24-23

Just like the Lakers, the Bulls have been making a push towards the postseason over the last few weeks. They've won six of their last eight games, including wins over the Nuggets, Timberwolves, Heat, and 76ers to settle into the 10th spot in the East and only a game behind the 8th-placed Hawks

Beyond this recent success, Chicago will see a boost in the form of DeMar DeRozan, who is expected to make his return to the lineup after missing a game with a right quad strain. With DeRozan back in the fold and joining Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, the Lakers will now have a trio of offensive challenges to deal with.

LaVine has been especially potent, putting up a 27.8 points a game on 51/42/88 shooting splits while grabbing four rebounds and dishing out nearly six assists a night over Chicago's last eight games. Add that to DeRozan's 25.6 points a night and Vucevic's 18.6 points during this same stretch and that's over 70 points a game from just those three players. Even for the NBA's #2 ranked defense since February 11th, that is a major test.

On the other end of the floor, the Lakers can look to build on their win over the Thunder by playing through Anthony Davis offensively. The Bulls have a nice center rotation in Vucevic and former Laker Andre Drummond, but Davis can have success attacking both if given the opportunity. Upping his touches and continuing to ask him to be assertive in looking to score is a great way for the Lakers to establish their offensive identity.