The re-made Chicago Bulls have won four of their last five games after a sluggish start, led by high level play from Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. For a Lakers team in need of a challenge, the Bulls are just that- strong defensively on the offensive glass, and featuring a red hot, top flight point guard able to both score and distribute.
Add in the natural ties between the two teams (Phil Jackson's history, the unavoidable Jordan/Kobe comparisons) and it should be a fun game. To get you ready, we spoke at length with Bulls beat writer Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago.
PART I: Previewing the Bulls
We pepper Friedell with questions about Tuesday's opponent for the Lakers. Highlights include...
-An overview of the Bulls as they come in, fresh off a road win in Dallas Friday night. "The Bulls are feeling great right now. A lot of people weren't sure how they were going to perform without Carlos Boozer... but the Bulls are playing great, led by Rose."
-Luol Deng: "So many people can't separate the [big] contract from his [performance], but right now, he's playing fairly well. I can't underscore what a difference it has made being in Tom Thibodeau's system for Luol Deng... He's running the floor and cutting across screens more than I've ever seen him. A little like Rip Hamilton."
-Keys to Rose's high performance. Health is a major factor, as is natural improvement. Another factor- he has faith in Thibodeau, as do the rest of his teammates.
-Turns out we weren't the last people to know how to say Thibodeau. It's not "Tib-o-dow," but "Thib-o-dow." Even the Bulls staff had it wrong, months after they hired him.
-How Chicagoans view Jackson, now that he's achieved so much in L.A., as well. "He's the Bulls coach."
-Worries the return of Boozer, out all season with a bum hand, may not help all that much. Some even wonder if it'll hurt. Friedell notes, though, how Boozer's interior scoring is something the Bulls haven't seen in eons, and need.
Part II: Breaking down the Lakers
Friedell hits us with questions of his own...
-How big a threat is boredom, really? Not much, in our minds, thanks in large part to the arrival of Matt Barnes and Steve Blake, helping energize the team early in the season.
-Aside from injuries, what might allow a Western Conference team to beat them? Obviously no team is unbeatable, but because of the team's versatility there's no team in a seven game series with clear advantages over them.
-The impact of Barnes, and how Lamar Odom is getting himself into the post far more this year than last, a key to his strong play.
-Nick's impression of the Lakers, having seen them live for the first time this season on Sunday night. "They look different than anyone else, as far as I'm concerned." Plus, Thibodeau's contention Odom is the most underrated player in the league. High praise, for sure.
Part III: How does Chicago view Kobe Bryant?
-A pretty simple question: With Kobe holding a legitimate chance to not only equal, but pass Jordan in the championship ring count before it's all over, how do Chicagoans view him?