The Los Angeles Lakers have won back-to-back games for the fourth time this season, and it was their first time in a month. Tonight’s game against the Chicago Bulls will give them the chance to do something they’ve only done once all season: win three-straight games.
These past wins have to be very refreshing for a team that was mightily struggling. The defense hasn’t become good, but it definitely has improved. Prior to the consecutive victories, the team had given up an average of over 120 points in a six-game losing streak. That average has dropped down to 105 points over the last two games. Tonight’s game should allow the Lakers to continue their improved defense. The Bulls aren’t a very dynamic offensive team: they are 28th in offensive efficiency and 29th in both scoring and shooting percentage. The Lakers must focus on playing disciplined defense and not allowing the Bulls to score over 100 (Bulls are 7-2 when scoring 100+).
The Bulls went through an extremely rough patch at one point in the year where they went 3-14 over 17 games. Because of stretches like that, many people think the Bulls as a roll-over type team, but they aren’t – not at all. This is a team that still has a great coach and a great defense with a group of very good players. The Bulls will be a respectable team no matter how many injuries or obstacles they have. The team is 7-2 in their last nine games, and in that span they have held opponents to an average of 91.4 points. They have a very stingy defense that isn’t going to give the Lakers anything easy.
Not enough can be said about Kendall Marshall‘s play as a starter. After another solid double-double (10 points, 11 assists), Marshall has now had five-straight double-doubles and is averaging 13 points (44.7 percent shooting) and 12.2 assists in his nine starts. Marshall is picking up where Steve Blake left off earlier this year. Nine games is still a small sample size, but it should be enough time to see if a player is the real deal or just a fluke. Obviously averaging 12 assists isn’t totally sustainable, but his production by passing the ball is no fluke. It’s going to be a big mess once all of the point guards are actually healthy.
Did anyone see Ryan Kelly coming on like he has? He had his first start last game, and he has earned another start against the Bulls tonight. Against the Toronto Raptors, Kelly scored 17 points (71 percent shooting) and five rebounds. He also added seven crucial fourth-quarter points that included two clutch free throws. Kelly is the ideal power forward for Mike D’Antoni’s system, and it’s going to be fun watching him continue to grow. A good draft pick is a breath of fresh air for this organization (recently, at least).
Nick Young came out against Toronto like a man coming off a suspension. Young was extremely aggressive and efficient to the tune of 29 points on 54 percent shooting – his season-high in scoring. Young is still the Sixth Man of the Year in my books, and performances like that are the reason why. Young’s production off the bench is a huge boost for this team, and it’s very important for him to continue this type of production while he is the only real threat coming off the bench as Xavier Henry continues to get healthy. Some expected Young to be a starter for this team, but it has proved to be a great move by D’Antoni to have him coming off in relief.
Carlos Boozer is having a very solid season: 15 points (47 percent shooting) and 8.6 rebounds a game. It will be an interesting match-up between him and Kelly. Kelly will be able to spread Boozer out and keep him away from the paint on defense, but on offense Boozer will have the size and strength to beat down on Kelly in the paint. Many big men have had great games against the Lakers this season, hopefully Boozer isn’t next in line.
Speaking of big men, Joakim Noah isn’t too shabby of a player himself. Noah is averaging 11.7 points (47 percent shooting), 11 rebounds and 3.8 assists on the season, but is playing even better as of late. Noah is averaging just under 13 rebounds in his last 20 games, and has even turned it up on the offensive end – 16.6 points on 51.6 percent shooting in his last five games. Noah is a great player to have next to Boozer, and the duo can really dictate a game with their effort in the paint.
Some might have the mindset that Pau Gasol‘s trade value is higher right now than it has been in recent memory, but I’m just happy Gasol is playing well for the Lakers. Gasol has now scored at least 20 points in four-straight games, and his overall game has been much more aggressive on both sides of the ball. Gasol will need to show up on the offensive end, but his rebounding might prove to be more important tonight. Gasol can’t allow himself to get bullied in the paint and get beat on a lot of rebounds. Tonight is going to be quite the battle for the seven-footer. Gasol is averaging 22.5 points (54.8 percent shooting) and 10.8 rebounds in the last four games.
Expected Starting Lineups
Key reserves: Nick Young and Jordan Hill
Key reserves: Tony Snell, D.J. Augustin and Taj Gibson
The game starts at 5:00 PM PST and will be broadcast live on TWC SportsNet.
This was an article by Andrew Ross. You can follow him on Twitter here: @AJRoss94