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Lakers vs. Bulls Preview: A back-and-forth affair

Now riding a three-game winning streak, the Lakers will look to continue trending upward as they face the Chicago Bulls twice in the next four days

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers took care of business and won a crucial, tie-breaker-securing game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday, led by Anthony Davis’ 37 points, Dennis Schroder, and Lonnie Walker IV’s solid production off the bench. They now currently sit in the eighth spot (37-37) of the wild Western Conference standings and have a record of 12-6 since the first game in which their trade deadline acquisitions suited up. This is also the first time in more than a year that the Lakers reached .500.

Now currently riding a three-game winning streak, the Lakers will look to continue trending in the right direction as they face the Chicago Bulls twice in the next four days. The first tilt will be in Los Angeles, and then the team will travel to Chicago for a rematch on Wednesday. Ironically, this will be the first time — since parting ways during the trade deadline — that the Lakers will square up against Patrick Beverley, who recently expressed his desire to knock the Lakers out of playoff contention.

And in case you missed it, check out what AD also had to say about that:

But in fairness to Beverley and the Bulls, they’ve improved their performance of late, quite similarly to the Lakers. After starting the season on the wrong note and entering the All-Star Break with a disappointing record of 26-33, the Bulls’ offense and defense have really soared in the past month (last 14 games). They’re currently fourth in the league in net rating, have had a top-10 offense and the second-best defense in that span.

And oh, the Bulls have also won four of their last six games and have been one of the best-performing teams on the road lately, nabbing five out of their last six away games. So this team that the Lakers are stumbling upon is currently playing their most confident basketball this season, and that sets up for quite an interesting back-and-forth. That said, here’s how the Lakers can draw first blood against the Bulls on Sunday:

Role players have to continue stepping up

It was Austin Reaves who came up huge in the Lakers’ crucial victory against the Orlando Magic last Sunday, then him and D’Angelo Russell versus the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, followed by Walker IV (whose minutes have significantly decreased since the trade deadline) and Dennis Schröder, who both stepped up big time against the Thunder yesterday.

The Lakers’ role players have helped Davis carry this team in this stretch, especially the bench which now ranks fourth-best in the league in points per game this season. If anything, these past 13 games since James went down have highlighted the depth that this Lakers team is now blessed with.

In fact, this group is slowly making a case as one of the deepest teams James has been on in terms of talent from top to bottom. The best part about this team’s depth is that they’ve proven that they can win games without their best player. When was the last time a LeBron James team won this many games without him active in the lineup?

The Lakers will have to continue getting consistent production from their depth in the next eight games, especially against a Chicago team that has a talented starting lineup. The purple and gold will have to figure out the Bulls’ solid point-of-attack defense while their own defense looks to contain two of the best wing scorers.

Which team’s best player can carry them to a W?

Aside from the importance of the Lakers’ depth, this game will go down to which team’s superstar can take over. It’s going to be a battle between Davis and DeMar DeRozan (who’s currently dealing with a quad injury) or even Davis against Zach LaVine. On offense, AD certainly has the edge in the frontcourt battle, but so do DeRozan and LaVine in the mid-range and perimeter.

We’ll see which among Davis, LaVine, or DeRozan can impose their will early, navigate through the defensive coverages thrown at them and lead their team to victory on Sunday.

Notes and updates

  • Assuming both Reaves and Alex Caruso aren’t late additions on the injury report, this will be the first game both Lakers fan favorites see each other on the court. Surprisingly, Reaves missed both games against the Bulls last season. This should make an interesting backcourt battle as well, with Beverley and Schroder joining the party.
  • The Lakers are listing Anthony Davis (right foot stress injury) as probable for Sunday’s game. Meanwhile, D’Angelo Russell (hip soreness) is questionable after missing Friday’s game with the same issue.
  • For the first time since his foot injury, LeBron James (right foot soreness) has been upgraded to doubtful and appears closer to making a return.
  • Mo Bamba (left ankle sprain) is out while Scotty Pippen Jr. (G-League) and Cole Swider (G-League) will be with the South Bay Lakers.
  • As for the Bulls, expect DeMar DeRozan (quad) to suit up tomorrow, but Caruso may not join him.
  • The only Bull who is ruled out for the season is Lonzo Ball, who underwent cartilage surgery on his left knee.
  • For news around the league, it seems that the teams the Lakers are trying to catch in the Western Conference standings, specifically the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns, are getting their key superstars back after their tough corresponding injuries. Anthony Edwards is expected to return to the T-Wolves’ lineup on Sunday while Kevin Durant is set to come back on Wednesday. These two teams also go up against each other on the same day KD comes back.

Adjust your alarm clocks for this one, because the Lakers and Bulls will tip off early at 12:30 p.m. PT. on Sunday. The game will be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.

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