Bulls wary of struggling Lakers

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Bulls wary of struggling Lakers

DEERFIELD, ILL. It wasnt supposed to be like this for the Lakers.

After assembling a star-studded roster, featuring holdovers Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol and offseason acquisitions Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, amidst coaching changes and injuries, theyve stumbled to a 17-24 record.

Its crazy, with all the talent they have. I think a lot of people thought that they would figure it out by now, just the type of players that they have. I think theyll figure it out. I think they better hope that it doesnt happen too late. But theyve got a lot of guys that know how to play. But Im surprised that theyre struggling the way that they are, said Bulls veteran guard Rip Hamilton, who grew up playing with and against Bryant in their Pennsylvania high school days. Its burning Bryant, especially with all the weapons they have. Its not just like they have a regular team.

But that doesnt mean the Bulls arent wary of the Lakers, whom they host Monday evening as part of the NBA slate of games for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Theyre a great team. I know their record might not show it, but theyve got a lot of talent, Carlos Boozer said. Obviously Kobe, one of the best of all time. Steve Nash, one of the best of all time. Dwight, probably the best center in the game. Pau Gasol, one of the best power forwards. Theyve got a lot of talent on that team, a lot of length.

Taj Gibson chimed in: We see them as a dominant team, especially on offense, but its up to us to go in there and take care of business, and know that weve got to run our plays, run our style of defense and just take care of home court.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau thinks nothing at all is wrong with the Lakers, who are in danger of slipping out of playoff contention.

Theyve had a lot of change. Theyve had injury. Any time you have Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, thats a loaded team. Mike DAntonis a great coach. This team is very, very dangerous.

"Whether its the Lakers, the Clippers, San Antonio, Memphis whoever youve got to approach it the same way, he explained. Gasol has been nicked up, but he looks like hes moving a lot better now. Kobes Kobe. Nash is overcoming his injury. Metta World Peace is playing like he always does, except hes shooting the ball better than he has in the past.

Thibodeau attributed some of their struggles to Howard, who was ejected in the first half of the Lakers Sunday-afternoon loss in Toronto, still trying to find his groove after offseason back surgery.

Youre talking about a guy thats coming off back surgery, so you know that as the season goes along, hes going to get stronger and stronger. Howard has been a very dynamic player in this league for a long time. He impacts the game with his shot-blocking, rebounding. Hes underrated in terms of how he scores and hes extremely intelligent defensively. Hes only going to get stronger as the season goes along, said the coach, before delving into the common strategy of Lakers opponents to intentionally foul Howard, a woeful free-throw shooter, late in games. Well, its a strategy. Sometimes its good, sometimes it isnt. Hes such a force at the rim that you dont want to just give him those shots. His ability to dunk and finish at the rim you cant give him those shots.

The state of the Bulls after the first half of the season

The state of the Bulls after the first half of the season

Who are the Bulls? The team that beat Cleveland and Toronto or lost to Dallas, Minnesota and Milwaukee?

That's the question Bulls fans are currently asking and the one Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill posed in the video above.

The Bulls have had impressive wins and shocking losses, but neither of those should be surprising at this point. The Bulls are, as Goodwill put it, consistently inconsistent.

The first half of the season has proven that Dwyane Wade still has some memorable moments left to give and Jimmy Butler continues to approach superstardom. On the downside, the drama surrounding Rajon Rondo has meant the 'three alphas' that were hyped up in the preseason haven't been the dynamic trio some Bulls fans had hoped.

Coach Fred Hoiberg doesn't have the shooters his system needs, but can he still rally the troops and get something out of Rondo?

Watch the video to see Goodwill's look back on the Bulls' first half and what could be ahead.

Five Things to Watch: Bulls host Mavericks in search of third straight win

Five Things to Watch: Bulls host Mavericks in search of third straight win

Watch as the Bulls take on the Pelicans today on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

Five Things to Watch:

1. What's Jimmy Butler got in store? On paper, Butler's performance Sunday night against the Grizzlies was nothing special. In fact, in many ways it fell short of his season averages. But Jimmy G. Buckets was on his game in the fourth quarter when the Bulls needed him most, helping them to a crucial road victory in Memphis. Tonight a fast start will be key against a Mavericks team that struggles to play from behind.

2. Dirk Nowitzki is back. The Mavericks are finally getting back to full-strength, and the main contributor to that is Dirk Nowtizki. The future Hall-of-Famer is finally rounding into form after an Achilles injury kept him out of the lineup most of the year. In his last three games, Nowitzki is averaging 20.3 points on 49 percent shooting.

3. There was at least some rumblings that the Bulls might have considered going after Ames native Harrison Barnes this past offseason. Instead, Barnes wound up in Dallas a potential building block for the Mavs. And he's looked pretty solid through the season's first half. Barnes is averaging 20.7 points on 48 percent shooting, 5.4 rebounds and nearly a steal per game in 36 minutes. It'll be a fun matchup watching him go against Jimmy Butler.

4. More 3-pointers on the way? It's easy to say that a 31-point outing will get you going, but maybe Doug McDermott can build on his career night against the Grizzlies. He hit 3 of 6 triples, made 10 of 11 free throws and even added six rebounds and a(nother) block. The Bulls will be able to run more against the Mavs than they were the Grizzlies, meaning more spacing for McDermott to find open shots. If he's hitting early, the Bulls are in good shape.

5. A three-game winning streak on the line. The last time the Bulls won three straight -- earlier this month -- it pushed them over .500. Now they've got a chance to reel off a third straight and again get back over .500. As poorly as the Bulls have played as a whole, the Eastern Conference is wide open at the bottom half of the playoff bracket, so these are opportunities they don't want to miss against a struggling team.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

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