The Los Angeles Lakers will play host to the Chicago Bulls for the first time this season on Sunday night. Chicago is a new-look team with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah now in New York.
The Bulls’ main offseason acquisitions this summer were Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade. Wade has been ruled out of the contest against the Lakers due to rest after playing a brutal, tough game against the Clippers on Saturday. Rondo, meanwhile, is questionable with an ankle injury.
The Bulls are a strange team, but much like the Lakers they have exceeded expectations to start the year at 8-5.
Here are a few things to watch for during the game at 6:30 PM PST on Spectrum Sportsnet:
Can the Lakers get off to a quick start?
As previously mentioned, the Bulls are coming off a grueling loss to the Clippers. It was a 48-minute, emotional affair that saw head coach Fred Hoiberg get ejected after a questionable, late call on Jimmy Butler helped secure the win for LAC.
If the Lakers can get off to a quick start against a tired team, this could turn into a great victory for them. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been something the Lakers have done thus far. In the first 13 games of the year, the Purple and Gold have a -9.7 net rating in the first quarter per NBA.com.
This could change against the Bulls, but of course that depends on whether or not D’Angelo Russell will play on Sunday. The point guard missed the game on Friday with a sore knee and his status has not been updated from questionable, hours before the game.
Can the Lakers slow down Jimmy Butler?
Much of the Bulls’ success can be attributed to Jimmy Butler who has started the year on a tear. The Chicago star is averaging 24 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game with .458/.426/.891 shooting splits.
LA will have to find a way to slow down Butler but that’s easier said than done. His former teammate Luol Deng will receive much of the assignment but Deng has struggled thus far after tons of mileage and injuries on his body. This may be an opportunity for Luke Walton to throw Brandon Ingram into the fire to guard an all-star player and attempt to bother him with his length.
Julius Randle’s play against Bulls’ frontcourt duo
If Russell does not play against the Bulls, the team will once again rely on Julius Randle for much of its offense, especially with the starting unit. It will be key for Randle to continue his stellar efficiency this season even with more usage.
Against the Spurs, Randle did a solid job of producing with 13 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists. However, he only shot 6-13 and at times looked to be trying to do too much. That worked well against a frontcourt duo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol.
However, Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez are a different beast. Gibson is one of the better one-on-one defenders at Randle’s position, while Lopez is an underrated rim protector.
Randle needs to be smart in using his advantages to draw defenders and finding open teammates. He should have plenty of opportunities to do so.