Happy Martin Luther King day! I’m honoring our country’s greatest civil rights leader by watching basketball, eating wings and drinking beer. God bless.
The NBA is accomodating me, as it always does, with a slate of games that starts at 1 p.m. You know I’ll be watching the crossborough matchup in Manhattan, but my pick for game of the week is one of the last: Los Angeles Lakers at Chicago Bulls.
The Lakers have been really unlucky this year, if you look at their Pythagorean wins on Basketball-Reference.com. They have the same number of expected wins as the Bulls, based on point differential.
Meanwhile, it doesn’t seem like luck has anything to do with the Bulls’ success. They’re grinding their way to every win.
There are a lot of things about the Lakers’ struggles that makes me shake my head, but the way they’re wasting a great Kobe Bryant season is the most exasperating. It’s not a surprise that Bryant has elected himself option one in this Los Angeles offense, but his level of efficiency thus far has been unprecedented in his career. But Chicago’s defense tends to swallow high-volume shooters like Bryant. Bryant got his in the lone matchup between the Bulls and the Lakers last year, scoring 28 points on 48% shooting with seven rebounds and six assists, but the Bulls harassed him into eight turnovers in a close loss for Los Angeles. The presence of Steve Nash should allow Bryant to have a more mistake-free game this time around.
Carlos Boozer has been on a tear, averaging almost 23 points on 53% shooting and 12 rebounds over his last 10 games. His improved play on offense is especially important on a Bulls team whose main scorer is sidelined. Until this point, it had been a down year for Boozer. His TS% of 0.518 would be a career low, not very good for the highest usage player on the team. The Bulls will need Boozer to extend his run of good play against the large front line of the Lakers.
What to Watch For
The Lakers have been unlucky to only have 17 wins. That’s because their offense has been really good, in large part because they get to the line a lot. Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant are third and fourth in the league in free throw attempts, respectively. Obviously, a Kobe Bryant free throw is a better outcome than a Dwight Howard free throw, but drawing all those fouls is advantageous, especially against a Bulls team employing a three-big rotation.
The Bulls offense is not nearly as good. Chicago sports one of the worst effective field goal percentages in the league. But the Bulls clean up that mess, grabbing almost 30% of available offensive rebounds. It’s been a team effort on the offensive glass. Joakim Noah has led the way, but Taj Gibson has been nearly as active off the bench. Despite their size, the Lakers have been mediocre on the defensive glass, so the Bulls will have the opportunity to create second chances.
Why Else Should I Watch?
You should watch basketball the whole day, because you can. If you don’t have the day off, I suggest making a huge scene at the office. Carry a laptop on your shoulder like a boombox and blast the “I Have a Dream Speech” on YouTube while a single tear rolls down your cheek. If you’re black, you don’t even need the laptop. Good luck.
By the way, if you watch that YouTube video, do NOT read the comments. You’ll start to hate your fellow man, and that kinda goes against the point of the speech.
How to Watch
TNT, Monday, 9:30 p.m. E.T.
League Pass Bonus Game
Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers, Tuesday, 10:30 p.m. E.T. This game is on NBA TV, but I don’t have that channel so to me, it would be a bonus if I could watch it OK?