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Lakers vs. Bulls Preview: Lord, have mercy

With five rotation players in the health and safety protocols and now no Anthony Davis, the Lakers’ depth will be tested once again on Sunday night.

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Lakers Bulls at Staples Center

The shorthanded Lakers will face another opponent significantly affected by COVID-19, the Chicago Bulls, to cap off their current three-game road trip on Sunday. The Lakers will be without Talen Horton-Tucker, Malik Monk, Austin Reaves, Avery Bradley and Dwight Howard while the Bulls (who will be playing their first game in eight days) still won’t have Zach LaVine, Ayo Dosunmu, Alize Johnson and Tony Bradley Jr. due to health and safety protocols.

The Bulls and Lakers’ unfortunate situations are just a microcosm of the wave of COVID cases currently engulfing the NBA:

And as if the Lakers needed any more adversity, Anthony Davis suffered an MCL sprain in his left knee in the team’s Friday loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves after Jaden McDaniels accidentally collided with his leg. It’s a tough break for the big man, who has only missed three games so far this season.

The phrase “wild times” is an understatement at this point. Despite the rise of positive COVID cases and the amount of players who have been isolated in the health and safety protocols, the league hasn’t hinted at any sign of a potential hiatus, probably because of the profit they’d be set to lose if they shut down, and the complications that would come with rescheduling so many games.

And speaking of profit, according to Tickpick, this particular Lakers-Bulls game was the most expensive matchup based on ticket sales for Chicago this season. Unfortunately, it’ll be far from what many fans first envisioned this matchup to be. Instead, this game is between two understaffed squads just trying to power through the effects of this unprecedented time.

The good news for the Lakers is that they will still have at two All-Stars, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, who both played subpar games on Friday.

The Bulls, meanwhile, will get DeMar DeRozan (who was playing like an MVP candidate before his trip to the health and safety protocols), Coby White, Matt Thomas and Caruso (who was out due to a hamstring injury) back on Sunday.

Whether Chicago will look rusty or well-rested from their layoff will be a huge factor in this matchup. As for L.A., well, they now have no choice but to make the most out of their depth. This is where head coach Frank Vogel’s rotations and schemes will be put to test.

How will Vogel come up with an appropriate game plan with several players unexpectedly in and out of the rotation? How can this coaching staff find ways to win games without four key rotation pieces? The workload will definitely be mostly distributed to James and Westbrook, who both need to play better than they did on Friday.

The biggest strength for the Lakers on Sunday will have to be their defense. DeRozan is the Bulls’ leading scorer and served the Lakers 38 points in their first meeting last November. But at that time, L.A.’s defense also had to pay attention to LaVine — who is out for this one — and Chicago’s flame-spewing perimeter players, who shot an unusually high 44.1 percent from downtown. With no LaVine, that will be tougher on Sunday.

Without LaVine, the Lakers can focus more on the Bulls’ leading scorer in DeRozan (who also ranks sixth in the league in points per game with 26.4) and hopefully let James and Westbrook attack the rim against Nikola Vucevic (who has been struggling as of late).

The goal for the Lakers will be to make life tough for DeRozan and let the other role players try to defeat them instead. This Chicago team does not rebound the ball well (they’re ranked 27th in the league) and have lost five of their last 10 games due to COVID protocols and injuries. On a human level, that sucks, but the Lakers have to overcome their own issues and try to take advantage of this incomplete Bulls team.

Games like this are where the saying “next man up” most applies for Los Angeles. Which role player is going to steal the spotlight on Sunday? It’s the perfect time for sharpshooter Wayne Ellington to bounce back from a poor shooting night on Friday and remind everyone that he’s a reliable 39.8% career three point shooter. It would also be nice if Kent Bazemore finally gets going, avoids fouling and continues to knock down 3-pointers from the corner while Carmelo Anthony, Isaiah Thomas or even Rajon Rondo should get opportunities to contribute as well.

Both teams are unfortunately going through unexpected adversity at this point of the season, but they have no choice but to roll with the punches. If there’s a growing theme with this Lakers squad this season, it’s been their resilience, a characteristic they will have to channel yet again on Sunday night. Hopefully it can help them bounce back from an ugly loss and end this disastrous road trip with a W.

Notes and Updates

  • Avery Bradley, Talen Horton-Tucker, Dwight Howard, Malik Monk and Kendrick Nunn, who are all still at the health and safety protocols, are out. You can see the latest on who is in and who is out at our tracker.
  • Davis is (obviously) also out on Sunday.
  • Trevor Ariza suited up for the purple and gold last Friday for emergency purposes but did not see minutes as he continues to ramp up from his right ankle injury recovery. He is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.
  • LeBron James (rectus abdominis strain) is probable.
  • Around the league, there are currently at least 58 players in the health and safety protocols, with Brooklyn Nets superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving some of the latest entries into isolation. The Nets and Lakers are set to face off on Christmas.

The Lakers and Bulls will tip-off (in an already COVID-delayed start) at 5 p.m. PT. The game will be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

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.