The 17-23 Lakers are struggling in every conceivable way--on and off the court, as well as on both sides of the ball. In this nightmarish season, every time things seem at their worse, LA unearths a further depth.
This week might not do anything to dispel that notion. The Lakers began their latest road trip with a lifeless loss in Toronto to the Raptors. The team sleepwalked through the game, the 1pm Eastern Time--10 am Pacific Time--start perhaps messing with their internal clocks. However, even an early, unnecessary Dwight Howard ejection wasn't enough to light a fire under their collective purple & gold butts. The Lakers allowed a shameful 54.8% field goal percentage and were outrebounded by the 3rd worst rebounding team in the league. In a season of disappointments, that loss ranks high on the mantle.
Clearly smarting from such a disgraceful L, the Lakers were contrite in their post game comments, acknowledging that they'd have to play with more energy and desire to dig themselves out of their self-inflicted hole. They'll certainly have to walk the walk if they want to defeat one of the NBA's toughest teams.
The Lakers wheel into Chicago with one of the Western Conferences worst road records at 5-13, though perhaps against an extremely vulnerable Bulls team. Chicago owns a mystifying home mark of 11-11, including odd losses to Phoenix, Charlotte and Milwaukee (twice). Also, leading scorer Luol Deng hurt his hamstring against the Celtics on Friday, and after missing Saturday's contest against the Grizzlies, will probably miss tonight's game as well. Without Deng, the Bulls will rely on scoring from a reborn Carlos Boozer, frequent Lakers nemesis Rip hamilton and a cadre of shooters, including Marco Bellinelli, Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler.
But scoring isn't where the Bulls make their bones. Tom Thibodeau's team is one of the most relentless, intelligent and ruthless defensive teams in the league, ranking fifth in defensive efficiency. They play passing lanes and the perimeter extremely well, allowing the fewest three-point field goals in the NBA, as well as the fewest opponent assists. Chicago is a patient lot while guarding opposing teams, and has no problem mucking the game up and turning it into a slow-down slugfest. Last week, they held Atlanta to just 20 first half points and Memphis to 85...in an overtime game. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson should wreak havoc on the inside against a struggling Lakers big man corps, further disrupting whatever offensive game plan Mike D'Antoni might have for his boys.
Look back no further than recent history as to how the Lakers might have difficulties with an intelligent, athletic set of defenders. LA could not force the ball inside to their bigs last Thursday against the Miami Heat, who rotated as crisply and efficiently as any team in the league, hawked passing lanes and turned the Show into a jump-shooting squad.
Tonight's game against Chicago marks just the second game on the road trip, but the beginning of an incredibly difficult week against all playoff contenders. The third and final roadie is Wednesday night in Memphis against the Grizzlies, and then back home to face the hot Utah Jazz on Friday night, and ending with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. The Lakers will be underdogs in every single one of those games, and if the Lakers lose all of these games, they'll be 17-27 a week from now. Remarkably, unbelievably, the worst may be yet to come. A loss against the Bulls could mark the beginning of the end for the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers.
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