Chicago Bulls vs. Los Angeles Lakers
5 PM ET, Staples Center
5. Luol Deng vs. Entire Lakers SF Platoon
Here at Dime, we recently recognized Luol Deng as one of the top small forwards in the league today. That said, he continually is underrated and underappreciated by fans. I agree with Sean Sweeney’s contention that “You’d have a case for putting him ahead of Iguodala on the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team last year.” He’ll more than likely be given the task to guard Kobe for the majority of this game, plus score over 15 points for the Bulls to win in L.A. Although his scoring average will likely drop this season due to the addition of Rip Hamilton and a greater responsibility to feed C-Booz, Deng shall steadfastly remain a dependable player as the Bulls attempt to finish first in the East standings again.
Mike Brown still doesn’t have a clue whether he wants to start veteran Matt Barnes, unproven Devin Ebanks, or the eccentric Metta World Peace at the three. One thing is for certain though: Each one of these cats must hold their own defensively to guard the opposition’s best perimeter wing player because Kobe’s days of saving the day on both ends of the floor for 48 minutes are over. Outside of the point guard situation and overall depth, the Lakers’ small forward contributions will be in question on a nightly basis if these three players don’t step up and take the challenge. Deng is a nice measuring stick to get an initial gauge on what their small forward rotation could be moving forward and how each can pitch in to help the invariably-perceived lack of talent surrounding Kobe.
6. Taj Gibson vs. Josh McRoberts
I wonder if Udonis Haslem looks at Taj Gibson and can’t help but see a younger version of himself? Because of his tenacious defensive, hustle and throw-downs like these, Taj has cemented his place as a fixture in the Bulls’ rotation. Oftentimes last season, the Bulls were better off having Taj playing alongside Joakim Noah than C-Booz, especially in the playoffs. One could definitely make a case that the threesome between him, Deng and Noah is the league’s best defensive frontcourt right now. Taj will continue to be a major reason why the Bulls are a legitimate contender.
Josh McRoberts has the improbable task to replace The Goods as the Lakers’ best big man off the bench this season. On a Laker team that doesn’t have much athleticism to begin with, his bounce will be needed. On his lone bucket during his preseason Laker debut, he did show off his springs. Although his game is nowhere near as polished or as impactful as L.O.’s, McRoberts must rise to the occasion and perform consistently right away if the Lakers have any real shot of contending this year. He’ll get his chance from the onset while Bynum serves his four-game suspension.