Chicago Bulls: Can Zach LaVine do enough to prevent Lakers domination?

Chicago Bulls shooting guard Zach LaVine will have the weight of this team on his back as they look to contend with the Lakers on the road on Jan. 8.

What is likely the toughest test that the Chicago Bulls have faced so far this season lies ahead as part of their west coast ride this week, on the night of Jan. 8 against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Bulls and first-year head coach Billy Donovan are set to take on the defending NBA Champion Lakers after having their two-game winning streak snapped earlier in the week.

So far in two games played through this road trip, the Bulls hold a record of 1-1. They started it all off by defeating the Portland Trail Blazers back on Jan. 5, by the final score of 111-108. That game fit a theme that the Bulls have established lately, playing exactly to their competition, whether it results in a win or loss.

Moreover, their last game on this road trip resulted in a tough loss back on Jan. 6 at the hands of the Sacramento Kings, by the narrow final score of 128-124. A late fourth quarter run by the Kings, and a solid effort from their frontcourt as a whole, got them the four point victory over the Bulls two nights back.

The last two games to complete this west coast road trip heading into the weekend won’t be easy. The Bulls get the Lakers on Jan. 8, and then the Los Angeles Clippers to round it all out on Jan. 10. Both the Lakers and Clippers are two of the better, and more talented, teams in the Western Conference this season.

Coming into this game, the Lakers sport a record of 6-3. Prior to falling short to the San Antonio Spurs in their last game on Jan. 7, the Lakers had won four straight. They will be looking to win five of six if they can take care of business against the Bulls on this night.

ESPN’s matchup predictor only gives the Bulls a 6.4 percent chance to pull off the upset of the Lakers. Those are the worst odds of any game that the Bulls have played in so far this season. And the betting line just ahead of tip off on the late morning of Jan. 8 has the Bulls as 9.5-point underdogs.

Clearly the Bulls are pretty heavy underdogs in this game, which is to be expected. The real question for their side will be how the backcourt is able to stave off an attempt from the Lakers to run away with this game right out of the gates.

Shooting guard Zach LaVine is heating up of late, as is second-year point guard Coby White. In their loss to the Kings two nights ago, the Bulls got a whopping 78 points between LaVine and White. The former of those two talented guards is rarely scoring below 25-30 points in each game of late.

Through nine games played so far this season (all of which he’s started in), LaVine is also seeing more minutes on the floor (just north of 34 per game). He’s averaged 24.7 points per game, 4.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.8 blocks. And LaVine shot 45.9 percent from the field, 29.7 percent from beyond the arc, and 86.3 percent from the free-throw line.

Meanwhile, White’s play is rapidly improving of late too. He’s now up to averaging 18.6 points per game, 5.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 0.2 steals, and 0.1 blocks. And White shot 42.4 percent from the field, 37.3 percent from beyond the arc, and 85.7 percent from the free-throw line.

The loss to the Kings was maybe the most efficient outing in White’s career to date. He went off for a career and game-high 36 points, while registering seven assists and no turnovers in the process.

A lot of the weight to push this Bulls team to even a competitive level in this game will fall on the shoulders of LaVine and White.

If they are playing for the Lakers on the back end of back-to-back games, then dealing with the superstar pairing of point forward LeBron James and big man Anthony Davis, will be a load for the Bulls.

LeBron is playing like his usual self so far this season, and showing an incredible level of durability. In nine games played, he’s averaged 24.2 points per game, 8.6 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.3 blocks. Meanwhile, AD averaged 22.4 points per game, 9.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.4 blocks, in eight games played so far this season.

The Bulls don’t have much depth in the frontcourt rotation at the moment to deal with the likes of AD. Center Wendell Carter Jr. will also have a lot of pressure on him to matchup with AD in the paint, especially with fourth-year power forward Lauri Markkanen anticipated to miss the rest of the west coast road trip.

Tip off time between the Bulls and Lakers is set for 9 p.m. CT at the Staples Center. This could be the first of two meetings between the Bulls and Lakers this season. But this is the only one on the first half of the regular season schedule.