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Lakers Host Bulls In Battle Of Division Leaders At Staples Center

It is a battle of division leaders tonight at Staples Center as the Pacific Division leading Los Angeles Lakers host the Central Division kingpin Chicago Bulls. The Bulls, under new head coach Tom Thibodeau, have won five of their last six games, and are 7-4 on the season. They are in the middle -- literally, as in game number four of seven -- of a long road trip, and will have gone 18 days in between home games when they finally return to United Center next week.

The Lakers must be wondering who will have the perfect shooting night tonight. Last Friday in Minnesota, Matt Barnes made all seven field goal attempts, scoring 24 points, and Derek Fisher made all five of his shots, scoring 12. Then, Sunday night at home against the Warriors, Pau Gasol became the fifth Laker ever to make 10 shots without a miss in a blowout win over the Warriors. On Sunday, Gasol had 28 points, nine rebounds, and five assists, making him just the third NBA player of the shot clock era (since 1954) to amass at least 25 points, five rebounds, and five assists while not missing a shot. The others were Gary Payton (32-5-6, 14-for-14 FG in January 1995) and Charles Barkley (31-7-6, 10-for-10 FG in March 1989).

Third-year point guard Derrick Rose is having a breakout season for the Bulls. He is fifth in the NBA in scoring, averaging 25.5 points per game, and eighth in the league with 8.3 assists per contest. Joakim Noah is second in the league in rebounding, averaging 13.3 boards per game. Former USC Trojan Taj Gibson has been playing well for the Bulls, but the starting power forward (with Carlos Boozer out) missed practice on Sunday and Monday with a pinched nerve in his right foot, per the Chicago Sun-Times, and is a game-time decision tonight.

The Lakers have beaten the Bulls six straight times, with their last loss coming December 19, 2006. The Lakers have won seven of their last eight contests at home against Chicago, and are 9-2 all-time against the Bulls at Staples Center. Head coach Phil Jackson is 15-5 against his former team. Tonight's 7:30 p.m. PST game will be televised by Fox Sports West.

For more Lakers news and analysis, be sure to read the SB Nation blog Silver Screen and Roll.