The Los Angeles Lakers have been without starting power forward Pau Gasol since the start of the season. The 7-foot All-Star will return tonight, as the Bulls visit the Staples Center for the first time this year.
Chicago won on Tuesday against Sacramento, bringing them to 6-4 on the year. While the odds are favouring the defending champions, the Bulls have established a strong defense for this year. Center Joakim Noah, forward Luol Deng and guard Kirk Hinrich have anchored the Chicago defense this season, leading them to wins against San Antonio Spurs and on the road against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Former MVP Kobe Bryant will be the point of emphasis tonight. The Bulls defense are going up against a scoring average of 31.0 points a game, coming on everything from drives, free throws and long range shots (the 20.8% accuracy from three-point land is a career-low and out of the norm for Bryant). Bryant, one of the most versatile offensive players in the history of the game, will face John Salmons who has his work cut out for him.
Salmons has struggled earlier in the season against shooting guards Manu Ginobili, Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade. For the Bulls to succeed, the perimeter defense will have to step out and deliver a strong game. For Salmons to be succesful against Bryant, it would help to offer some assistance offensively. Salmons had 23 points on Tuesday at Sacramento.
Offensively, the Bulls are not going to get easy shots inside. Lakers center Andrew Bynum is living up to his enormous, and establising himself in the paint on both ends of the floor. Bynum is averaging 20.3 points and 11.8 rebounds on the year, and will be the biggest opponent Joakim Noah has gone up against this season. Noah, the leagues leading rebounder at 12.4 a game, is giving up close to 40 pounds on Bynum, and will also have to face Pau Gasol when the Lakers go small.
Rookie forwards Taj Gibson and James Johnson are both likely too see minutes tonight, especially after a solid performance from Johnson in Sacramento. This will also double for Johnson as a learning experience, seing as the 6'10 forward Lamar Odom will be on the floor. Johnson has a similar skillset, and could learn from Odom.
This leaves point guard Derrick Rose, the Bulls top draft pick from 2008, who has the opportunity to step up offensively. Rose will face a struggling Derek Fisher and the inefficient Jordan Farmar. Along with Luol Deng, who will face former Bull Ron Artest, Rose will have to step up and lead this Bulls team into the deep depths of the league's most dangerous lakes.