With Sunday afternoon action on ABC in full swing, it’s time for another quality double-header for your viewing pleasure. The “late” game this week matches two teams with significant “what if” questions from this season, but both squads are firmly in the middle of playoff pushes.
Let’s take a look at what to expect from this match-up.
Chicago Offense vs. Los Angeles Defense
The league’s 24th rated offense against the league’s 18th rated defense! What a match-up! (insert sarcasm font)
Chicago’s offense has sputtered at times (really, the majority of the time) without the services of Derrick Rose this season. The Bulls do feature three above-average offensive players in the frontcourt (Boozer, Deng, and Noah), but none of the three are proven go-to-guys who can initiate offense on an uber-consistent basis.
The backcourt for Chicago has been a severe issue, and the offensive side of the ball is where that problem emerges most. Nate Robinson, Kirk Hinrich, and Marco Belinelli are playing the majority of the minutes in the backcourt and that’s… a problem. Fortunately for Bulls fans, they get the distinct pleasure of facing off against one of the worst backcourt defenses in the league in the picture of Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are the key to any discussion surrounding the Boston offense, but each guy draws a difficult match-up from OKC. Pierce will likely draw the attention of Thabo Sefolosha and/or Kevin Durant for the bulk of the game, and both players present problems. Sefolosha is one of the league’s best wing defenders who focuses almost entirely on defensive output (the reason he’s employed, honestly), while Durant’s excessive length could present issues for Pierce’s athletically challenged game.
Wait… I can’t possibly be taking a shot at Kobe Bryant’s defense! Well, without going into detail, Kobe has slipped mightily on defense this year, and Nash hasn’t been even an average player on that end of the court in a long, long time. Chicago’s offense is ugly at times, but the LA defense has been known to be a cure for ugly offense.
Los Angeles Offense vs. Chicago Defense
This is the much, much better match-up of the two sides of the game. LA’s offense has been in the top-10 in the league all season (despite their 32-31 record), and Kobe has been absolutely tremendous this season. Bryant is averaging a 26/6/5 for the year on nearly 48% shooting, and really, he’s kept them afloat at times offensively. Add in Nash (who is admittedly slowed, but still effective) and Howard (ditto to Nash) to the mix, and LA falls out of bed with a top-10 offense.
Chicago’s defense has been equally strong, performing at a top-5 rate all year (currently 4th at 98.8 points allowed per 100 possessions), and they certainly have the personnel to slow down the LA offense. Luol Deng will likely grab the Kobe assignment, and his length and hustle are always a problem for top-flight scorers on that end.
If there is a weak spot for the Chicago defense, it is allowing offensive rebounds (they are 21st in def. rebounding rate), and it’ll be a tall task to keep Dwight Howard and company off of the offensive glass.
Match-up to Watch - Dwight Howard vs. Joakim Noah
Speaking of Howard, his one-on-one match-up with Noah should draw the most attention in this game. Noah is doing his best “good Howard” impersonation this season, as he has become a leading candidate for defensive player of the year while averaging 11.4 rebounds and 2.24 blocks per game while anchoring a top-5 defense. With that said, facing off with Howard isn’t a typical assignment, and the slighter Noah will have his hands full.
It’ll be interesting to see if Howard actually guards Noah on the other end, as Chicago’s offensive options (namely Boozer) make it a decision for Mike D’Antoni as to whether to deploy Howard on Noah full-time. The offensive threat of Noah isn’t his scoring (in particular), but rather his ability to effectively set-up teammates as an above-average passer, and his ability to crash the offensive glass. If the “good” Dwight Howard shows up, he’s still the better player, but Noah has been much, much consistent this season.
We’re at the point on the calendar where every Lakers game is big, and this is no exception. Because LA currently lands in 9th place in the standings (2 games behind Utah), they have very little margin for error, and home games against teams that they should beat on their home court can’t slip by. For Chicago, they are still in real position to challenge for home-court in the 1st round of the East playoffs, and a quality road win would put them in a better position.
It’s likely that LA will show up energized (on national TV, mind you) and we’ll get a solid effort from Dwight Howard which should translate into a significant advantage for the Lakers. They are simply a different team when he’s right, and if they get that effort (and I believe they will), it should be a semi-comfortable win for LA.