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Lakers vs. Bulls Preview: Welcome home, Alex Caruso!

The Lakers need to be ready for a potential Alex Caruso revenge game and a dangerous Bulls team that has had a solid start to the season. 

Chicago Bulls v LA Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

When the Lakers lowballed Alex Caruso in free agency and essentially forced him to sign with the Chicago Bulls, a lot of heartbroken fans (myself included) circled this particular game on the regular season schedule. The GOAT is back home, and it certainly feels bittersweet. But it’s not just a potential Caruso revenge game the Lakers have to prepare for: Joining him is a dangerous Bulls team that has had a hot start to the season and is playing like one of the best teams in the league.

What makes the Bulls so dangerous is their ability to beat opponents in different ways. They currently have the 10th best offensive rating in the league (109.1) led by their superstar Zach LaVine and midrange master DeMar DeRozan. They also get reliable contributions from their role players on both sides of the court, particularly Lonzo Ball, Javonte Green, Derrick Jones and Caruso.

Chicago’s biggest strength is turning their defense into offense (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) as they have the seventh best defensive rating in the league holding opponents to 104.5 points per 100 possessions. Their perimeter defense frequently gives opposing ball-handlers a tough time, allowing the Bulls to average 8.8 steals a game.

Someone please notify Russell Westbrook to take extra care of the ball on Monday.

Adding to the strengths of this Bulls squad is that they don’t turn the ball over often (they rank 27th in the league) and they convert their 3-point attempts at a high rate. In short, they’re a dangerous, versatile team that can get advantages in quite a few different ways.

However, having said all this, the Bulls recently suffered a huge blow after losing their big man Nikola Vucevic to the health and safety protocols. His absence was strongly felt against the Golden State Warriors, who took advantage of this. The Lakers should do the same and get Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard to dominate inside the paint. Vucevic’ absence should also allow L.A. to close down on DeRozan and LaVine and force their other role players to make tougher shots off the dribble instead.

Speaking of dominating inside, the Lakers might want to also crash the boards, as the Bulls are one of the worst rebounding teams in the league (27th of 30 teams in rebounds average per game). This might be a tough night for the Lakers’ perimeter guards, but they can certainly make up for it on the front court. Davis, who had his most dominant game of the season on Sunday, should handle the scoring load and maybe lead the game in rebounds once again because there’s literally no one in the Bulls that can contain him on Monday.

And on the bright side, the addition of 20-year-old Talen Horton Tucker (THT) back to the starting lineup already did wonders for the Lakers on Sunday. Not only did he provide more scoring but he was also a much needed boost for the Lakers’ struggling defense this season. With THT back in the mix, the Lakers now have an additional wing, ball-handler and playmaker. Besides THT, Wayne Ellington, Carmelo Anthony and Malik Monk also provided 3-point shooting on Sunday, which they can hopefully replicate vs. the Bulls on Monday.

The key for the Lakers to secure this game is to do exactly what the Warriors did on Friday — shoot more 3-pointers than Chicago, outscore their bench, dominate inside, limit turnovers and contain LaVine and DeRozan as much as possible. It’s also going to be interesting to see who Frank Vogel assigns to cover Chicago’s best scorers.

Both L.A and Chicago are going to be on the second night of a back-to-back stint on Monday so there’s really no excuse for the Lakers to come out flat. Hopefully L.A. has enough energy to handle this powerful Bulls team because if they don’t, Alex Caruso might just put on a “how to play basketball with maximum effort” clinic once again.

Notes and Updates

  • Trevor Ariza (right ankle injury recovery), Kendrick Nunn (right knee bone bruise) and Austin Reaves (hamstring injury) are still out.
  • LeBron James sat out against the Spurs and is still considered day-to-day leading up to Monday’s game against the Bulls.
  • Something to look out for: Frank Vogel made major rotation adjustments on Sunday, benching Kent Bazemore and starting THT and Anthony. It was Bazemore’s first (and DeAndre Jordan’s third) DNP due to coach’s decision this season.
  • Anthony Davis, on the return of Alex Caruso:

“The emotional side of me still has a lot of attachment to L.A.,” he said.

He has thought about what it will be like to play at Staples Center for the first time as a visitor. What it will be like to check in at the scorer’s table where he was so often showered with MVP chants.

“I know I’m going to be a little giddy,” he said, “just because I know how the fans are gonna be. They are who they are. There’s a tremendous amount of love and support from them, and it’s mutually felt.”

  • Around the league, if you’re into the MVP race this season, Kevin Durant currently leads the NBA MVP ladder followed by Stephen Curry, Nikola Jokic and Paul George. Hopefully the Lakers continue to win games and improve their record so one of their superstars garners attention for this award as well.

The Lakers will a have little more than 24 hours of rest after Sunday’s early game before facing the Bulls at 7:30 p.m PT. on Monday. They game will be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet and nationally on NBA TV.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.