By Eric Pincus
10:00 AM PST, January 20, 2014
In their fourth contest on a seven-game road trip, the Lakers (16-25) visit the Chicago Bulls (19-2) on Monday night.
The Bulls have managed to win seven of their last 10 games, climbing back into the top eight in the Eastern Conference (sixth) despite losing Derrick Rose to another knee injury.
Chicago also traded Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers for former Lakers center Andrew Bynum, whose non-guaranteed contract was waived -- saving Chicago from the luxury tax.
The Lakers continue to play without Kobe Bryant (knee), Steve Nash (back), Steve Blake (elbow), Jordan Farmar (hamstring) and Xavier Henry (knee).
Joakim Noah has emerged as the leader of the Bulls, who win games by playing defense.
Through 38 games, Noah is averaging 11.7 points, 11 rebounds and 1.3 blocks a game. Noah is also a steady playmaker, dishing 3.8 assists a night.
The Lakers are also heavily reliant on their center, but for his offense above all.
Gasol is scoring 16.3 points, 9.8 rebounds. 1.4 blocks and 3.4 assists a game.
Noah will make the night difficult for Gasol. The question will be, will the Lakers in turn be able to defend the Bulls?
Taj Gibson's offense is up and down but the USC product is averaging 11.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 28.1 minutes a night.
The Lakers have had their share of trouble this season guarding a variety of big men. Gibson could have a big night against the Lakers.
Ryan Kelly made his first career start on Sunday in a Lakers' win over the Toronto Raptors.
Kelly responded with 17 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
The Lakers will need help against Chicago on the second night of a back-to-back. Kelly can help space the floor for Gasol, which could help against the defense-minded Bulls.
The Lakers' defense tends to improve with their offense.
Should the stingy Bulls knock the Lakers out of their sets, the Lakers may stumble defensively.
Missed shots and turnovers have killed the Lakers in recent games.
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