Things to watch in Lakers-Bulls matchup
Some things to keep an eye on when the Lakers and Chicago Bulls meet Christmas Day in the season opener:
1. How will Kobe Bryant's right wrist look? Bryant will answer that question the minute he steps on the floor. Will he, as Derek Fisher predicts, hoist a 22-footer on the first possession to prove the lunotriquetral ligament in his right wrist means nothing more than a medical term? Will Bryant temper his aggressiveness and simply facilitate? Or will he maintain his aggressiveness, while minimizing damage to the wrist by driving to the basket? Only Bryant knows for sure how he'll literally play his hand.
But no one knows how treatment and full practices Friday and Saturday will actually translate in the Lakers' season opener Sunday against Chicago. To make things even more difficult, it also appears the Bulls will throw multiple defenders at Bryant, including Richard Hamilton, Ronnie Brewer and Luol Deng. Regardless of Bryant's health, it's integral the Lakers' supporting cast don't make it necessary for Bryant to solely shoulder the burden.
2. How do the Lakers stop Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton? The Bulls may have fed Rose with a meaty five-year, $94.8 million extension to remain with them through at least the 2016-17 season. But Rose remains forever hungry for an NBA title after Chicago fell to Miami in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals. He also plans to build off a MVP season by adding more to his post game.
Clearly defending one of the league's quickest and best point guards would prove challenging enough for Derek Fisher, Steve Blake and maybe even Darius Morris. But the Bulls signing Hamilton gives Chicago three things. He provides a secondary scoring option, precise passing and helps open up the floor. That makes the Lakers' already burdensome task of limiting the Bulls backcourt even more difficult. Without backcourt speed and Andrew Bynum's size, the Lakers must force the Bulls' backcourt to settle for mid-range jumpers.
The challenges go beyond a depleted frontline, however. The Bulls simply have more bench depth than the Lakers. They boast a 10-player rotations, including Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, Brewer, C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver. Meanwhile, Metta World Peace has been given the task in leading the Lakers' bench. Good luck with that.
4. How will Devin Ebanks fare in his starting debut? Ebanks has looked solid all preseason with both his shooting form and aggressiveness. But that doesn't mean that can carry over to his first career start in a nationally televised game against a top opponent. It's likely Luol Deng will instantly try to disrupt Ebanks' comfort level. Considering Coach Mike Brown plans to keep Ebanks on a tight leash, it's critical he keeps his composure.
5. Will the Lakers lay an egg? The Lakers are 4-8 in their last 12 consecutive Christmas Day appearances. No one had much of a theory for this trend. But at least for the past two seasons, the Lakers simply didn't play with much focus against Cleveland and Miami. The Lakers have more reason to try harder since it's the season opener and they face plenty of uncertainty. But it always remains difficult to gauge the Lakers' focus level.
-- Mark Medina
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