On January 21 at 9:30 p.m. Eastern Time, the Los Angeles Lakers will travel to Chicago, Illinois to play the Chicago Bulls. The Lakers are 5-13 on the road, and the Bulls are 11-11 at home.
Chicago is also 4-10 against the Western Conference. L.A. is 8-7 against the East.
Regardless of which team does it, one side will break an underwhelming early season trend.
In a recent postgame interview, Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant decided to temporarily stop the bleeding. Rather than place the blame on others, Bryant has tackled the burden (via Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles).
The question is, will it be enough to motivate his team to play as one? Bryant said:
Everybody wants to know what's the reason, whose fault it is and this, that and the other. I just made it more easy. You should just point the finger at me. Let me take all that. This way, we won't have to worry about that as a team. It's part of my responsibility. I'll take [the criticism] and we can just focus on what we do best, which is playing together and trying to figure out how to get out of this losing.
If nothing else, this is a step in the right direction.
The Lakers have been in disarray since the beginning of the season, rarely piecing together stretches of victories. Unfortunately, the Bulls haven't been much better with superstar Derrick Rose sidelined by injury.
Even still, the Bulls are in the playoff picture. L.A. is not.
Which team will take a leap toward solidifying its postseason push?
Time: Monday, January 21, 2013 at 9:30 p.m. ET
Records: Los Angeles Lakers (17-23, 5-13 Away) vs. Chicago Bulls (23-16, 11-11 Home)
Betting Line: N/A as of January 20, 2013 at 2:03 a.m. ET
Injury Report: Steve Blake, Out (Abdomen); Luol Deng, Questionable (Hamstring); Jordan Hill, Out (Hip); Derrick Rose, Out (Knee)
Key Storyline: Reeling Powers
The Chicago Bulls are merely 4-3 over their past seven games. For the season, they're just 11-11 on their home court.
The Bulls lost 12 home games in 2010-11 and 2011-12 combined.
The Los Angeles Lakers, meanwhile, take the term "reeling" to an entirely different level. The Lakers are 2-8 during the month of January and 17-23 overall this season.
Their most recent loss came in a lopsided 108-103 affair against the 15-26 Toronto Raptors.
A victory on national television could propel one of these two teams to a run to effectively alter the course of its season. Whether that's saving L.A. from missing the postseason or creating a sense of consistency while performing at home for L.A., one thing is clear.
This is as close to a must-win as they come for both sides.
Key Matchup: Dwight Howard vs. Joakim Noah
During their most recent respective games, Dwight Howard was ejected and Joakim Noah was benched for the fourth quarter and overtime. Both men have something to prove.
Expect both to put it all on the line in their statement game.
Noah is looking to make his first career All-Star appearance in the midst of a spectacular season. With averages of 12.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.3 steals per game, this numbers support his campaign.
Outplaying Howard on national television may just seal his fate as an All-Star.
As for D-12, he has just as much to prove as Noah. Although he has already secured a spot in the 2013 NBA All-Star Game, Howard has been one of the most heavily criticized players in the NBA this season.
Even with jaw-dropping numbers, D-12's quality of play has clearly been stunted by his recovery from offseason back surgery.
If Howard is able to continue his recent string of dominant performances, the critics might silence and victories may transpire. Should D-12 come up short in front of a national audience, however, the critics will grow louder and the Lakers will continue to struggle.
The pressure is on what some have falsely referred to as a dead position.
X-Factor: Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls
During the month of January, embattled power forward Carlos Boozer is averaging 22.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game. He has 11 double-doubles over his past 12 games.
As a result, Boozer has tied Dwight Howard and J.J. Hickson for the third-most double-doubles in the NBA. He's also put an end to the reason for hatred via Bulls fans.
Even if it will continue.
If the Bulls are to defeat the Lakers, they will need Boozer to keep performing at a high level offensively. The Lakers may be struggling, but they will put up points and pound it inside after Pau Gasol's recent 25-point outing.
It is up to Boozer to maintain a steady offensive pace and continue his recent string of production. Can he handle the task?
If so, Chicago may just win this game.
Who will win?
For the first time in 2013, the Los Angeles Lakers are going to impress against a respectable opponent.
The offense will run through Dwight Howard, Steve Nash will be more aggressive as a shooter and Pau Gasol will finally work out of the post. As a result, Kobe Bryant will finally find his groove as a shooter and make his fourth-quarter heroics count.
Just don't think that looking impressive leads to an automatic victory.
The Bulls may be depleted by injuries, but they remain one of the league's top defensive units. They will contest every shot, punish the Lakers along the interior and space the floor with their improving perimeter game.
As for the individuals, look for Carlos Boozer to continue his recent hot streak—the former Duke Blue Devil is averaging 22.8 points and 12.0 rebounds during the month of January.
In the end, it will be a matter of the Lakers making the shots that the Bulls are unable to. Until Derrick Rose returns, this will remain an issue.
It will be a low-scoring affair, but Bryant's clutch shooting and Nash's facilitating will be the deciding factors in this one. Finally.
Los Angeles Lakers 98, Chicago Bulls 93