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.