Showtime: 5:00pm PT
Plot: These two teams don't care about your narratives. They don't know what tanking is, much less how to do it. Despite a rash of injuries, players not quite ready for prime time minutes and missing superstars, the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers play hard every single night. They do not know any other way to do their jobs. These two iconic organizations should be--in a way--proud of the subpar teams they've put on the floor, and the coaches in charge of them. Premium effort, no matter what the situation. And lately, despite all obstacles on hand, this had led to victories.
The Lakers shuffle into the United Center tonight looking for their third win in a row and first in Chicago since 2009. The Bulls have come together nicely since Derrick Rose's season-ending injury and the trade of Luol Deng, depending on the production of Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and unbelievably, young journeyman D.J. Augustin. They're winning on (what else?) defense, with just four opponents scoring over 100 points in regulation in the past five weeks. The Bulls control the perimeter, yielding the second fewest three pointers per game, and are in the upper half of the league in both block and rebounds. In short, no matter who their personnel, the Bulls are the same team defensively they've been under coach Tom Thibodeau the past four seasons: absolutely dominant. For the three-happy Lakers, this could be bad, bad news.
LA has won two in a row, but not in the cleanest of manners. They did everything possible to lose Sunday's matinee against Toronto, including getting badly outrebounded and out-shot, and yet won on the strength of their superb free throw shooting and the Raps' inability to force turnovers out of a very error-prone team. Still, the Lakers have to be impressed with the emergence of Ryan Kelly, who has played over 30 minutes in both victories for a total of 29 points, as well as the team's general unerring hustle and effort on every play. The Lakers remain an extremely flawed team, but they play extremely hard on every possession, an encouraging sign despite the piling losses.
The Bulls are 5-2 since dealing Luol Deng for zero players in return, an amazing record considering that guard Jimmy Butler has been banged up and Deng was widely considered one of their best all-around players on both ends of the floor. They're the mirror version of the Lakers, except in Chicago's case, it's an unstoppable commitment to defense rather than offense. LA should be soundly defeated on the boards tonight, especially considering that the Bulls are 7th in the NBA in offensive rebounding. However, in order to win, they'll have to make that deficit as little as possible, as well as try and outscore a usually poor Chicago offensive attack.
With some spring in their step as well as a fresh memory of what winning tastes like, it almost feels like the Lakers can win this game. If they play with the same effort that they showed this weekend, as well as some better rebounding, perhaps they can make this nightmare Grammy Trip in a pleasant memory after all.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino