The Lakers have gone five years without reaching the NBA’s post-season, the longest spell in the franchise’s illustrious history, but were marked as a definite playoff contender after acquiring LeBron James last summer.
But a 17-game spell out injured has seen the Lakers slip from fourth in the Western Conference down to 10th.
The four-time MVP helped lift his team-mates to a huge buzzer-beater win over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night that puts them 1.5 games back on the eighth-seeded LA Clippers, having played one game less.
The Lakers front office looked to land Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans before the trade deadline and though they missed out on their No 1 target, they made less high-profile moves to bolster their roster.
They sent Svi Mykhailiuk and a 2021 second-round pick to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for sharpshooter Bullock while Muscala was added from the Clippers in return for Ivica Zubac and Michael Beasley.
And Los Angeles general manager Rob Pelinka says the pair should help to give Luke Walton more of the tools he needs to get the Lakers back into the playoff picture.
In an interview with Spectrum SportsNet, Pelinka said: “It’s interesting. Magic [Johnson], Luke and I – and with Jeanie [Buss] too – we sat down before the trade deadline and talked about some things on the roster that we really wanted to try to tweak or improve.
“One of them was perimeter shooting. Bullock is an elite catch-and-shoot guy, one of the top ones in the league.
“Svi is an amazing player, it was hard to give him up. As a rookie we wanted a guy who can do it now.
“Bullock, he had a 43 per-cent shooting last year. He’s an elite, elite shooter.
“When we have a guy like LeBron, we want to give ourselves the best chance to go deep in the playoffs. We felt he was a key piece for that.
“When we took a look at our five spot, we had three elite rim protector rim-rollers. We wanted to diversify that position a little bit.
“It was hard to trade Zu, great young player, but we feel like Muscala can stretch the floor and add a stretch five, play some four as well.
“He’ll open up the court for our drivers like Rondo, LeBron, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo when he comes back. I think it’s important.
“We just felt like if we tweaked our roster from a chemistry standpoint with some shooting, if we could just make that push and get that eighth spot or seventh spot and then let a player like LeBron do what he does in the playoffs.”
LeBron has not missed the playoffs in any of the last 14 seasons in his 16-year NBA career, making the Finals in all of the last eight. He served up a 28-point, 12-rebound, 12-assist triple-double to lead the way against Boston.
The final legs of Lakers’ six-game road trip sees them go to Philadelphia and Atlanta before the All-Star break.