NBA on ESPN Betting: Los Angeles Lakers at Chicago Bulls

Jimmy Butler is doing his best to carry a very mediocre Bulls team.
Jimmy Butler is doing his best to carry a very mediocre Bulls team.

Los Angeles Lakers at Chicago Bulls
Time: 8 PM ET (ESPN)
Spread: CHI -7
Total: 209

Betting odds c/o 5dimes

The Chicago Bulls are a team without a clear direction. Chicago has lost seven of its past 10 games and fallen to No. 8 in the Eastern Conference standings.

Hosting the Los Angeles Lakers is a good ticket to get Fred Holberg’s club back on track though, as the Lakers linger in the cellar of the Western Conference standings. Chicago will be 7 point favorites in tonight’s game according to NBA oddsmakers at 5dimes.

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The Bulls are 17-10 at home this season, and playing tough at the United Center is not yet a problem for a team on the cusp of actual mediocrity. Chicago is coming off a 116-106 victory over the Toronto Raptors. It was something of a Doug McDermott coming out party. The rookie scored a career high 30 points on 13 of 17 shooting off the Bulls bench. The Creighton product has upped his production in the Bulls last ten games: 12.6 points on 48.5 percent shooting. In the month of February McDermott is averaging 13.1 points per game on 51.9 percent shooting.

And it may be a real boon that Chicago was able to improve through the draft. With Derrick Rose’s contract weighing heavy on the team, it is difficult to see how the Bulls can improve from pretenders to contenders any time soon.

Swingman Jimmy Butler appears to be a legitimate superstar at this point, but even with an All-Star like that, it is difficult to imagine Chicago having the firepower and strength to do anything with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the postseason. And that is a problem considering Chicago would face Cleveland if the postseason began today.

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But where can Chicago even go to radically transform its roster? Pau Gasol may be on the first ticket out of the Windy City when free agency happens this summer. Joakim Noah is a great passer and defender, but even Chicago’s frontcourt depth is not really enough to push the team over the edge. Taj Gibson is a borderline starter, and Bobby Portis is a nice talent, but how do the Bulls sculpt its frontline should Gasol depart?

Moreover, there is always the elephant in the room: Derrick Rose. Rose has averaged 16.3 points per game this season, but he is still trying to figure out how to become a great player without great athleticism. The “MVP Rose” relied so heavily on his strength and explosion, and he was never a lights out shooter.

The result has been that he now hits 41.7 percent from the field and 27 percent from three point range. Even with Butler being a dominant offensive talent who can shoot hate all, the Bulls still lack a lot of shooting that is needed. Throw Nikola Mirotic’s sophomore slump into the list of reasons why the Bulls have tumbled down the standings.

Meanwhile, things in Laker-land are mostly just about Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour. The Lakers have won just 11 games this season and are gesturing for a high draft pick once again. Adding another top-flight lottery talent to the collection of youth on the roster could help the Lakers develop into a tough contender sooner than later.

L.A. is said to be heavily looking at DeMar DeRozan this offseason in free agency, and of course there is always the outside chance that the team could land Kevin Durant. There is no sense pretending that Los Angeles is anything but a premier free agent destination, and the thing about the Lakers is that when they are down they do not stay down indefinitely.

That is all in the “to be seen” heap from the Lakers. Los Angeles is just 5-26 on the road this year and Chicago is still a tough team at the United Center. It is tough to say this is a meeting between two typical powerhouses, but the Bulls are a fringe playoff team now and the Lakers are lottery fodder. ESPN will make its story centered around Bryant’s final leg of his final season, but there is scarcely a story to be found in the fate of these two teams, at least at the present moment.

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