Lakers vs. Bulls: Five things to watch
Easier said than done. Rose has reached elite point-guard status in the league, now averaging 25 points and eight assists a game. The saying goes you don't stop great players, you only hope to contain them. The question is how will the Lakers deal with Rose? You have to stop him before he gets into open space in transition and team defense is critical in the half-court game since very few players in the league can stop him from getting into the lane with one-on-one defense.
With the Lakers down to two healthy big men -- Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom -- it will be interesting to see if they try to funnel Rose into traps and away from the lane. It's no secret that Derek Fisher and Steve Blake have trouble handling quick and athletic guards, plenty of which play in the NBA. Derrick Rose is quick, athletic and strong, with the ability to finish at the rim. Keeping his forays to a minimum and making him give up the ball are critical.
2. Controlling the tempo for the sake of Gasol and Odom
With Andrew Bynum, Theo Ratliff and, now, Derrick Caracter out of action, it will be key for the Lakers to control the tempo by running a disciplined offense that maximizes possessions, keeping the Bulls from getting into transition and limiting their turnovers. The Lakers have plenty of firepower on offense, so controlling the boards and not hoisting up too many long-range jumpers that lead to long rebounds will be critical.
3. How Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer play together
With Boozer having recently returned to the court from injury, combined with a lack of depth in the frontcourt for the Lakers, this will be interesting to see unfold. Boozer's presence in the low post actually takes away from Noah's game, since he's best when moving down the lane off a pick-and-roll play or rolling through the lane while Rose occupies the defense with his forays from the perimeter. Word in Chicago is that Noah's game has been thrown off a bit by the return of Boozer, who had 29 points and 14 rebounds in a 99-90 victory over Oklahoma City earlier this week. Still, the two make a formidable combo up front for any team to handle.
4. Speading the workload around the triangle
With Gasol and Odom having to log heavy minutes tonight, look for Kobe Bryant to shoulder a bigger burden on offense. This doesn't always work to the Lakers' advantage, because when Bryant goes into scoring mode, it often disrupts the flow of the triangle. Shannon Brown had 21 points the last time these teams played, a 98-91 Lakers win on Nov. 23rd. Then again, when Kobe gets his game going and becomes more of a facilitator than a scorer, he single-handedly changes the complexion of the game.
5. Chicago farewell for Phil Jackson
This should be the coach's final game in Chicago, barring a meeting in the NBA Finals, which I wouldn't count on, but in the Eastern Conference one never knows. Not to get too sentimental, but he had some good times in that city (not counting the contentious end of his run there). I don't think this will have any direct impact on the game, but it's part of the pageantry that goes with the NBA.