The LA Lakers and Chicago Bulls face off tonight in a match-up between two of the NBA's premier teams.
Kobe Bryant made the game even more interesting when he heaped praise on Derrick Rose, the Bulls' young point guard, during an interview with ESPN's Michael Wilbon.
"I can tell when a player truly wants to be better and does what it takes to improve," Bryant said. "It was a quality I had when I was growing up.… I admire that about him."
And what's not to admire?
Rose is undoubtedly one of the best players in the NBA in just his third year in the league. He's averaging 25.1 ppg, 8.2 apg and 1.1 spg, while shooting nearly 46 percent from the field. He's achieving career highs in almost every statistical category. And even more importantly, his Bulls are atop the Central Division with a 12-8 record.
He's not doing it alone, of course. Free agent acquisition Carlos Boozer has been terrific since returning from injury, and is already averaging 15 ppg and 5.6 rpg. Joakim Noah has emerged as one of the league's best centers, averaging a double-double with 14.8 ppg and 12.3 rpg. Even swingman Luol Deng is playing better, contributing a remarkable 18 ppg and 6.6 rpg.
Every championship team needs to have size, scorers and at least one franchise player.
Do the Bulls have size?
Joakim Noah (6'11"), Kurt Thomas (6'9") and Carlos Boozer (6'9") are all good to great players capable of throwing their weight around. Check.
Do the Bulls have scoring?
Luol Deng (42.4 percent), Derrick Rose (45.6 percent) and Kyle Korver (45.1 percent) are all lethal shooters from all over the floor, while Noah (51.9 percent), Boozer (52.6 percent) and Taj Gibson (50.0 percent) do an excellent job cleaning up around the basket. Check.
Do the Bulls have a franchise player?
Derrick Rose is not just one of the best point guards in the NBA, he's one of the best players in the NBA. Period. And at only 22 years old, he has the potential to get much, much better. Check. Double check. Triple check.
The Bulls are still just fourth in the pecking order in the Eastern Conference behind the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Orlando Magic. But they can match up with any team in the NBA. They have the size to dominate against the Heat and defend against the Magic. They have the defenders to slow down Rajon Rondo and the Celtics. But can they stop Kobe Bryant and the Lakers?
Theoretically, yes. Deng is a good enough defender to make Kobe work for his points and the Lakers don't have anyone who can defend Rose. Noah and Boozer vs. Andrew Bynum (not expected to play) and Pau Gasol is a wash. The Lakers have Lamar Odom and Ron Artest. The Bulls have Taj Gibson and Kyle Korver.
But the Lakers are still the defending world champions and, until that changes, they will remain the one team everyone else is chasing. Can the Bulls chip off a piece of their throne tonight?
Tune in to find out.