The Chicago Bulls will be looking for the season sweep when they host the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night. It was some amazing basketball from Jimmy Butler that powered the Bulls to victory in Los Angeles 10 days ago, and he’ll be looking to do it again.
It seems like it is awfully early in the season, still in the first full month of the regular season, but the Lakers are playing Chicago for the second and final time this year. Unless the two teams meet in the NBA Finals. Wouldn’t that be a laugh out loud moment?
Not much has changed since the two teams last faced off. The Lakers are 2-3, including a whooping courtesy of the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night. The Bulls have been less active, coming off that ugly Circus Trip that saw them play road games against Portland, Utah, the Clippers and Lakers, Denver and, finally, Philadelphia.
It’s been a deserved extended break for the Bulls. They last played on Friday night in Philly, so it ended up being a total of four consecutive days off. However, they’ll be right back into the grinder after this game, playing four games in five days over the weekend and into next week.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the things, and players, to watch for on Wednesday night.
It’s all about the first quarter for this year’s Chicago team. They either get out to a hot start and right that out, or they just don’t. It seems like they fail to get it going altogether if it isn’t working early, because the bench is somewhere between inconsistent and awful. And that isn’t just on the players, head coach Fred Hoiberg hasn’t been pressed for an explanation on why he has Bobby Portis on the court and is putting Cristiano Felicio on ice.
Frankly, it just doesn’t matter what I say if you wish to disagree. So, allow me to do the thing that is good and wonderful – use statistics. You know, real numbers that have been accurately measured and allocated a particular significance.
This season the Bulls are a plus-12.3 team in the first quarter. That’s significant. It means that they are putting a hurt on their opponents early and often. A great example of that is the huge win over the Trail Blazers. Chicago won the first quarter, 35-14. After that first quarter, they were just plus-four for the rest of the game. Without that hot start, they just don’t get the results.
If you’re not into plus-minus, look at it another way: Wins and losses. In the 10 games that the Bulls have won, they’re averaging 29.3 points and 15.1 rebounds per first quarter. In six losses, they average 25.7 points and 10.5 rebounds.
It’s been four days of no game action and the Lakers are no slouches. If Chicago doesn’t show up ready to win, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that they might not.
Nov 17, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) reacts to hitting a three-point shot at the first-half buzzer against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
It’s a recurring theme to be sure. But hey, the man scored 40 points against the Lakers 10 days ago. 40 points. The last Chicago Bull to pull off that feat in LA? Michael Jordan. And this is on the back of Jimmy hitting some 20 point, 5 rebound, 5 assist-type numbers that haven’t been done since Scottie Pippen in the 1994-95 season and that I can’t show you now, sadly, because they are lost somewhere deep in basketball Twitter.
He’s really everything for this team right now and of course he is, because it was only after two kind of bland seasons that I started to think that his body of work evidenced a player that could be a lockdown defender or a high-volume scorer. Surprise, surprise.
I don’t know if Butler has another 40-point game in him this season against anyone, but he’s on a short list of players that have been able to repeat that milestone since the start of last season. Also, he’s shooting more than ever before, but while his field goal attempts have crept up by about one attempt per game each season since 2014-15, it’s his free throws that are really emerging as a big piece of his game.
Fun stat: Butler is averaging 1.3 more made free throws this season than attempts last season. Again, the last two season he averaged 7.1 free throw attempts per game. He’s averaging 8.4 makes this year.
Everything is looking for Jimmy, and by proxy the entire Bulls team.
But don’t let his impressive scoring stand as everything for you. He’s getting more free throw attempts and scoring more points in Bulls losses this season than in their wins. I guess this is where we have a little blurb about his defense and the teams on/off splits.
When Chicago lost to the Nuggets last week, they started out strong with Butler, at +22, and then imploded without him, going -22 very quickly. It might have something to do with Hoiberg having struggles getting the right bench rotations, but it also has a lot to do with a team that just can’t defended if not for their on-court leader, Jimmy.
Nov 25, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Richaun Holmes (22) scores past Chicago Bulls forward Bobby Portis (5) during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The Chicago Bulls won 105-89. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
There aren’t nearly as many words to try and explain what’s going on with this bench and playing defense.
Honestly, it was a completely beating at the hands of Jamal Murray and the Nuggets last week. But it also happened against the Lakers earlier in November.
Here’s a nasty look:
Lou Williams might as well have just dribbled up to Denzel Valentine and whispered in his ear, “Child please.” Now, Valentine is young, but that’s a bad look for a defender that had good intentions. Sure, you don’t want to rush the ballhandler and watch him kick it to the wide-open guy you just ran by, but you can never get caught between the two, guarding no one.
There was more, much more!
I don’t fully blame Bobby. It’s easy to dump on the young man right now. He’s been bad on both ends of the floor, very bad. Still, if Jerian Grant can’t follow his player in motion and trips you up, that’s not on you. That’s a full team situation.
Now, this one:
This is on Portis all day. Embarrassed by a guy name Larry. That is absolutely all on him and shouldn’t happen. It’s good work by the Lakers, but their degree of difficulty was incredibly low when the defender was left standing still. It’s just like when a goalkeeper in soccer fails to position himself correctly and just watches to ball go into the net, caught flat-footed.
All this ugly happened in a win, so they don’t have to be perfect. The margin of error will be slim, but they will have a margin and will likely use all of it.
Nov 20, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Isaiah Canaan (0) gets a pat on the head from forward Taj Gibson (22) after he was called for traveling in the second half of the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Bulls won 118-110. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
We love to end things on a positive note, so let’s get to the predictions!
Chicago has a tougher challenge than the Lakers – getting back into gear after four rest days.
If they can knock off the rest early and post another strong first quarter, they position themselves nicely. The flipside of that coin is Hoiberg’s lineups after the starting five. Los Angeles has a whole bunch of talented players, capable of going nuclear at any given moment. Even Nick Young has his moments for this Lakers team.
The Lakers are coming off a Tuesday night game in New Orleans, a game in which they were run off the court by a struggling Pelicans squad. At 9-10, Los Angeles might be heading in the wrong direction while Chicago has looked surprisingly good early on.
Player of the Game: Jimmy Butler
Winner: Chicago Bulls
The Bulls have been absurdly better than expected all season. At some point, this stops being an outlier and becomes the norm. That time might as well be now. Butler seems particularly motivated to elevate his game night after night and the confidence from his big performance in their last meeting probably motivates him to go nuts again.
If Chicago loses, they’re still 10-7 and one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.