LOS ANGELES, CA- When LeBron James made the choice to join the Los Angeles Lakers last summer the prevailing thought was that the NBA superstar and his Purple and Gold teammates would fly over the rest of the league and be in the position to possibly challenge the Golden State Warriors for Western Conference supremacy and maybe have a shot at winning a title.
That has not happened just yet. Eventually, that may happen when James is fully healed and comes back from nursing a pretty serious groin injury, a malady that has kept him out of the lineup since Christmas Day. But for now, Lakers coach Luke Walton is concentrating on his squad playing well enough just to stay afloat in the Pacific Division to even have that possibility.
Winning games they are supposed to win doesn’t hurt. After stumbling and tumbling in a home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the worst team in the NBA, the Lakers were faced with playing the second-worst squad in the league in the Chicago Bulls. That proved to be a struggle. But a win is a win no matter how you get it. With the continuing absence of James, the task of stepping up their game has been placed on other players to carry their share of the load.
It was Lonzo Ball’s turn against the Bulls. Ball scored a team-high 19 points, including connecting on three of his seven 3-point attempts to lead the Lakers to a 107-100 win against the Bulls. As a team, Chicago is a mess right now. The Bulls fired head coach Fred Hoiberg after getting off to a 5-19 start, but with Jim Boylen taking over the team is playing about at the same level as they did when he was promoted.
The defeat to the Lakers was the eighth in a row for the Bulls, but that is not Walton’s nor his team’s worry. The Lakers have their own concerns about winning and surviving through this regular season, especially with so many expectations and projections early on in the season about where and how the team would be playing. Including the defeat to Cleveland and the win against Chicago, the Lakers are 4-6 in their last 10 games.
Their schedule won’t get any easier with road trips to Oklahoma City and Houston before they encounter the Warriors, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and the Clippers at Staples Center before the month of January is up. So it was imperative that the Lakers didn’t fall into getting lulled to sleep because of Chicago’s record and win this ballgame.
Both teams struggled shooting from the field. The Lakers made just 38 of the 82 shots they took from the field, including going 8-26 from 3-point land. The Lakers won this game when their starters outscored their counterparts from the Bulls. Besides Ball’s 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists, the Lakers also got 16 points and 12 rebounds from Kyle Kuzma, 16 points and nine rebounds from Brandon Ingram, and 17 points from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
The Lakers put some distance between themselves and the Bulls in the third quarter when they outscored Chicago 32-25 in the period. The Bulls, led by Jabari Parker’s 18 points, would outscore the Lakers in the fourth quarter, 32-31, but it was too little, too late. The Lakers are just one game ahead of the Sacramento Kings for third place within the division and are eighth in the Western Conference.