Of all the games on the circus trip, this is the one that looks like the sure loss. The game where the Bulls would simply be overmatched, and Taj Gibson, after seeking medical advise, said it's a strong possibility he'd miss the game.
Without Boozer and Gibson, the Bulls will face a particularly difficult time matching up against the Lakers size. The Lakers are missing Andrew Bynum, but Pau Gasol + Lamar Odom + Ron Artest is still a front court to be reckoned with and has a whole lot of strength on the Bulls grouping.
How will the Bulls match up with that size, and how did we get this far without even mentioning that Kobe Bryant?
Keys to the game
Which guard dominates their perimeter matchup more? Derrick Rose should eat Derrick Fisher alive, and while the Lakers have imposing size in their front court, you wouldn't really consider any of those guys premier help defenders on the inside. Derrick needs to dominate the hell out of Fisher to give the Bulls a chance in this game.
More so than other games, he's also going to need to draw fouls, the best defense the Bulls have against Pau Gasol is to make him ride the pine, so Derrick needs to drive into contact tonight to help out our front court and get these guys in foul trouble.
It's a tall order, especially in the Staples Center given that Rose isn't prone to get foul calls anyway, and the game is played in L.A. where home cooking tastes pretty good if you're a Lakers fan.
On the flipside of the coin, can the Bulls find a way to contain Kobe Bryant? I'd normallysuggest going with Brewer (defends well) or Korver (to make Kobe expend energy on defense), but if Taj can't go then Bogans will need to play a lot, so you'll just need to change your looks on Kobe and be ready to provide help.
Go big or go small just don't go Scalabrine. Assuming Taj is out, the Bulls need to adjust the rotation. I know that Thibs trusts Scalabrine, but this trust has not been backed up by quality play, quality minutes, or anything outside of the Bulls getting annihilated while he's on the floor. I've grown to like Scal more than I thought I would because you can appreciate what a heady player he is on the floor.
However, now that the preseason is over, and he's playing against experienced players, his lack of athleticism is completely exposed and the team is crushed when he plays. While I'd rather live with James Johnson's mistakes than Scalabrine's athletic weaknesses at this point, but why live with either?
My rotation for the night:
PG: Rose 38, Watson 10
SG: Brewer 18, Bogans 23, Watson 7
SF: Korver 30, Brewer 12, Deng 6
PF: Deng 30, Joakim 18
C: Joakim 18, Omer 30
Granted, the odds of Omer playing 30 minutes without fouling out aren't particularly high, but a man can dream. If he can stay on the floor then the Omer/Joakim lineup gives you imposing size for a big lineup.
Then play Luol Deng at PF as part of a small lineup. The key is to keep better players on the floor as much as possible. If the Bulls do decide to bring in a bench player for more action, then my choice is James Johnson.
Johnson has the athleticism and size combination to annoy Lamar Odom, and if he puts together a good game, as unlikely as that seems, then he can really help the Bulls whereas with Scalabrine and Thomas the hope is to simply not fall down by 10 points in the first three minutes they are on the floor.
Turn the game into a track meet. The Lakers can get into these up and down games with teams at times and lose the fact that they can dominate anyone when they slow it down. The Bulls are younger, smaller and faster, particularly if they play small ball, so keep the pace up and hope you can win in transition.
The Bulls have the athleticism to play fast, but they haven't put it all together in the uptempo game yet. However, the Bulls aren't beating the Lakers in the half court, so speeding up the game is the best option.
Dare Ron Artest to beat you. Throw some trash talk his way, goad him about his lack of shooting ability, give him some space, do whatever you can to get him to start throwing up shots. Ron Artest can get into modes where he's a complete shot chucker, and the Lakers play poorly when that happens. If you can goad him into launching threes then one of three things happens.
He'll make you pay by nailing a ton of threes on you, it's unlikely but could happen. He'll play his way onto the bench which greatly weakens the Lakers size advantage, or Jackson will live with it, but you'll have forced L.A. away from better offensive options.
Don't lose the Phoenix game tonight. There's going to be an incredible temptation to go with the starters very extended minutes tonight, because the bench will lack a lot of depth without Taj Gibson. Don't fall in that trap.
You don't want to instill a losing attitude that losing is acceptable, but you also don't want to lose tomorrow because you played Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Luol Deng 42 minutes each tonight. The Bulls need to stick to their regular rest patterns, and if the game looks out of reach in the fourth then it's time to shut down the starters and start thinking about tomorrow.
The Bulls can beat the Lakers tonight if they have a quality shooting night and catch LA on an off night, but even if we ride our starters into the ground, we're more likely to lose. Don't turn tonight's loss into a losing streak by wearing everyone down before tomorrow's game, especially with this being the first of four games in five nights.