Chicago at L.A. Lakers
Time: 9:30 PM CT, NBA TV
Spread: LAL -7
Odds c/o 5dimes
Without LeBron James available, much of the Lakers game plan and offensive focus has shifted to its other starting forward, Kyle Kuzma. He has delivered. Kuzma finished with 41 points on 16 of 24 shooting in L.A.’s 113-100 victory over the Detroit Pistons, and the second year man has been on a tear. Over his last 10 games, Kuzma is shooting 42.4 percent from the floor and averaging 20.4 points, 3.3 assists, and 5.9 rebounds per game, even though the Lakers have won just four of those contests. On the season, he is now averaging 18.8 points per game, but his shooting range and offensive skills have complemented James well.
Ideally, the thought could be that Kuzma really finds the “alpha” in him with James out and that the Lakers are better still when its star returns. Others have not stepped up. Brandon Ingram has lingered this season and shown few improvements. Josh Hart has mostly disappointed. Lonzo Ball has had his moments but continues to look like a poor shooter with too many noticeable flaws.
Perhaps outside of Kuzma and James, the brightest spot has been the play of center JaVale McGee. He has shined as a defensive anchor, and over his last 10 games is averaging 10 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. McGee has scored double-figures in three of his last five games, and against the New York Knicks on Jan 4 he had 18 points, nine rebounds and a block in 25 minutes. McGee has never played big minutes over his career because he suffers from exercise-induced asthma, but he has thrived in the minutes he has played this season as a Laker. The Lakers have enough potential to make the postseason, but many will still flag that as a failed effort simply because James is on the roster.
Without LeBron available right now, we should begin to get an accurate gauge on what this roster is capable of aside from what James creates himself. There are some high-end talents that have cost high lottery picks, but Ingram will never fulfill his comparison to Kevin Durant, because aside from being ultra-thin, he mostly lacks all the talent that has made Durant so transcendental. The Lakers’ best hopes reside in acquiring another major free agent this summer, along with the continued maturation and development of Kuzma. Kuzma hardly cost the lottery pick those other talents on the roster, but he has panned out to become the best pro thus far. Hart, Ingram and Ball? The jury remains out.
The Chicago Bulls are just 5-16 on the road where it takes on the league’s most dominant team tonight. Chicago has lost its past five games, and its last win came over a team just as desperate as it is (the Washington Wizards). The Bulls do have a few legitimate offensive stars but the defense has been a real issue for the team this year. Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Jabari Parker are the team’s top three scorers, but none are good defensive talents. Kris Dunn is, but he is almost on an island considering the team’s next best player – key reserve Bobby Portis, is neither playing nor a good defender.
The Bulls are giving up 110.2 points per game, which would not look so bad if this was not the worst offensive team in the league. Chicago averages just 100.7 per game, which ranks last in the Association, and expectedly, it ranks No. 27 in assists given that its top scorers are mostly isolation-playing talents. There is precious little chemistry and even less defense on this Bulls team, and it has won less than a quarter of its games, as a result.