After so much went right for the Lakers to start the 2016-17 season, seemingly everything has went wrong of late.
Injuries to D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle slowed momentum on the Lakers’ fast start and even after gaining the latter back in the line-up on Tuesday, Luke Walton’s crew was handed another blow as Nick Young exited the game two minutes in with what would later be determined to be a strained calf.
That leaves the Lakers at 9-10 on the season, without their Opening Night starting backcourt and with a hobbled Randle in the front court.
Awaiting them will be a rested Chicago Bulls side that have been off since Friday and, just over a week ago, beat the Lakers at home.
With all that in mind, let’s look at three things to watch for tonight’s game.
1. Containing Jimmy Butler
Alright, yes, containing Jimmy Butler isn’t exactly easy. However, in the last meeting between the two teams, Butler got to the rim seemingly at will en route to 40 points. Tonight, with a host of injuries, the best case scenario will see the likes of Luol Deng or Jordan Clarkson defending Butler, neither option providing much reason for excitement.
While there are multiple options on the Bulls’ offense that can be dangerous, keeping Butler in check is a big start and something that will likely be atop the gameplan for Walton.
2. Control the glass
The Lakers are also going to have their work cut out for them down low as the Bulls enter the game second in rebounds per game and first in second-chance points.
In the previous meeting, the Bulls crushed the Lakers on the glass, out-rebounding them by 22 with grabbing 16 offensive rebounds on the night. While winning the rebounding battle may not be realistic, not losing it by 22 should be an attainable goal. Keeping it close and limiting second-chance opportunities will be another key on the road.
3. Dominate the pace
The Lakers enter the game with a PACE of 101.96, fourth-best in the league. The Bulls, meanwhile, sit in 21st with an average of 97.67 possessions per 48 minutes.
Los Angeles is a team that wants to get out and run, but last meeting managed just 10 fast break points, fewer than the Bulls. While the team isn’t necessarily built on getting in transition and scoring on fast breaks, they are a team that needs to keep the game sped up, something the Bulls don’t do often.
If the Lakers are forced into a slow-paced game, they’ll be exploited, especially offensively where they’re down multiple weapons and have few players who can create offense by themselves.
However, if they can open the game up, instincts take over and easier shots are created, something that will be imperative on the road on a second night of a back-to-back.
As much as I want the Lakers to win, the chips are stacked high against them. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if I’m wrong, but Bulls 102, Lakers 87.