Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson

Chicago's Taj Gibson, left, is congratulated by teammate Joakim Noah after hitting a winning shot in overtime to defeat the Lakers, 102-100, on Jan. 20. (Paul Beaty / Associated Press)

The Lakers (18-32) have won two straight games, finishing their three-game road trip on a high note.

On Sunday, they'll play a more challenging team than the Cleveland Cavaliers (17-33) or Philadelphia 76ers (15-36), hosting the Chicago Bulls (24-25) at Staples Center.

The Bulls have climbed into the top eight in the Eastern Conference despite losing Derrick Rose to a knee injury and Luol Deng in a money-saving trade to the Cavaliers.

Even when the Bulls are short-handed, they still play well as a unit defensively.

The Lakers aren't known for defense this season, but the team has improved since getting Steve Nash and Steve Blake back from injury.

Of course, the Lakers will still be without Kobe Bryant (knee), Pau Gasol (groin), Jordan Farmar (hamstring), Nick Young (knee), Jodie Meeks (ankle) and Xavier Henry (knee).

The status of Chicago's Carlos Boozer's isn't clear.  He may sit out with a calf strain.

Key matchup

The Bulls recently beat the Lakers in Chicago (102-100) in overtime on a last-second layup from Taj Gibson.

Gibson didn't have a big night but he hit the most important shot.  It was Joakim Noah that gave the Lakers fits, scoring 17 points with 21 rebounds and six assists.

Gasol tried to match the Bulls' All-Star, contributing 20 points, 19 rebounds and five blocked shots to the Lakers' cause — but it wasn't enough.

Now it will be up to players such as Robert Sacre, Chris Kaman and Jordan Hill to help the Lakers try to get past Chicago.

X-factor

Young scored 31 to lead the Lakers in scoring last time against Chicago, but he too is out Sunday.  Meeks was the team's third-leading scorer with 16 but won't be in uniform.

Neither Blake nor Nash played in Chicago, where the Lakers had a tremendous problem dealing with reserve point guard D.J. Augustin.

Augustin led the Bulls with 27 points, including 5 of 7 from three-point range.

As short-handed as they are, the Lakers will need both Blake and Nash to have big nights — both in scoring and assists.

Outlook

The Bulls don't score a lot (just 92.1 points a game), but they're going to battle the Lakers defensively.

The Lakers are averaging 101.1 points a game but allow 106.1.

Chicago should have the advantage, given the six scorers the Lakers won't have on the floor.

If the Lakers still have designs on a high draft pick, they need to stop their recent spate of winning.

Two may not be a lot, but after the team won just three games in all of January, it's a near deluge.

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Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.