Lakers vs. Bulls Pre-Game

After months of Kobe Bryant trade speculation–arguably the most heated discussion taking place with the Chicago Bulls–the two teams will take the court in a game that will not feature one of the most talked about potential trade commodities in Luol Deng. Deng will not play tonight as he still experiencing pain in his lower back. Coach Phil Jackson expressed disappointment with Deng’s absence as he said he was looking forward to the Lamar Odom-Luol Deng match-up following Lamar’s outstanding effort on the defensive end versus Detroit Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince in the Lakers win on Friday night.

With renewed trade speculation following the Bulls into Los Angeles, Jackson said his team is much more focused than the squad that showed up to training camp dispelling any lingering issues regarding Kobe’s status and team chemistry. Despite having a roster filled with younger players, Jackson said that his team has bonded together in the face of the trade firestorm. When asked if there was a sense of irony surrounding tonight’s game, Jackson responded that “It was the same thing on Friday,” in regards to the recent trade rumors that had Kobe heading to Detroit for a packaged built around Prince and Richard Hamilton.

With less than an hour before the Lakers tip off, Jackson said he has yet to decide whether or not injured power forward Ronny Turiaf will play in tonight’s contest. As of now, the plan is for Jackson to talk to Turiaf after he completes his shoot-around and determine his status thereafter. The Lakers could use Turiaf’s muscle inside to offset the Bulls Ben Wallace as the Chicago forward is a bruiser underneath the basket and is notorious for disrupting teams’ flow in the lane.

One match-up that will certainly spark interest tonight is that of Kobe Bryant and Kirk Hinrich–the defender most likely assigned to Kobe. Jackson said that Kobe, like Michael Jordan, has a tendency to increase his aggression when he knows he has a smaller, less athletically inclined player guarding him. However, Jackson cautioned that Bryant needs to resist the urge to rely solely on his post-game against the 6’3″ Hinrich as that is likely exactly what Chicago would like him to do.

Despite Chicago’s surprisingly slow 2-6 start, Jackson said, “They’re still a team to be reckoned with” so the Lakers would be wise to not take the Bulls lightly.