Bulls feel better about this loss to Lakers


Dec 16

You have to hope what happened Tuesday in a hustling, determined Bulls effort, in the end a 96-87 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant’s 42 points, doesn’t become a habit.

Not the playing hard and competing, finally.

The being satisfied with it.

“We’ve just got to learn from this one and get better, improve,” said Joakim Noah, who was a hustling force with 11 points and 20 rebounds, 14 on the offensive boards, the most for a Bulls player in 12 years. “You’re getting blown out by 30 points how can you say we’re improving? Tonight we can look at ourselves and say we gave everything we had (and) put ourselves in position where we had a chance. We can’t get down just missing open shots and some layups. If we bring that energy we should be happy with ourselves.”

Not too happy as it was another loss, the 11th in 13 games to fall to 8-15, three games poorer than last season this time when the Bulls were playing Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes.

It was a lost opportunity, in some sense, as the Bulls got 96 shots to 79 for the Lakers, outrebounded them 51-37, had 14 blocks to five for the Lakers and had more points in the paint, fast break points and second chance points.

The biggest statistic is they scored more than us,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro.

Noah was terrific. Derrick Rose, who suffered a strained rib and left the game for a time, and Luol Deng each had 21 points in a promising sign the way the team in the first three quarters opened the floor more for Rose and speeded up the game with fast breaks.

It helped that Bryant, who scored 20 points in the first quarter playing with a splint on his right broken index finger to show he could, also made eight turnovers and effectively took the Lakers out of their dominant offense by shooting so much.

The Lakers crushed the Bulls in Los Angeles last month going inside repeatedly to their big guys, seven footers Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, who combined for just 18 shots to 26 for Kobe and 20 threes for the Lakers, 18 through the first three quarters which ended with the Bulls ahead 73-72.

I asked Noah about the difference Tuesday, and he looked up like I’d just landed from France with the Coneheads.

“I think Kobe Bryant taking 30 shots, that makes a difference,” Noah said. “They (big guys) didn’t get the ball maybe as much as they wanted to.”

Then realizing you don’t spit into the wind or question Bad Bad Kobe, Noah added: “When Kobe is hot like that you cannot really be upset.”

Kobe was hot, oooh and aaah hot as he blitzed John Salmons and Kirk Hinrich with jumper after jumper in the first quarter, eight straight in one stretch. Though at the end of the quarter, it was 31-31 in one of the Bulls best quarters of the season.

Actually, I thought the Bulls strategy of not double teaming Bryant was sound. First of all, the Bulls are not a great team at doubling and recovering. They bring the double along the baseline a lot, and then opponents have learned to turn middle on it for an easier shot. Plus, the more Bryant looks to shoot, the more it levels the field with the huge advantage the Lakers have inside.

“They’re a load,” agreed Brad Miller, who seems finally to be coming on as he started to match the big guys and had 15 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two blocks.

I can hear Bill Walton demanding: Throw it down! Big guy.

“Aaron Gray made a comment one time that Bynum with one of his flatfooted shots was still six inches above me,” said Miller. “They’re long and they’re big, but Jo and Taj (Gibson, who added three offensive rebounds) really played hard.”

It came down to the end, as it often has this season for the Bulls, and there was no one there again, the Bulls outscored in the fourth quarter 24-14 (seven from briefly-a-Bull Shannon Brown) as the Lakers pulled away.

“There isn’t the outside threat (Ben) Gordon presents or the streak scorer that he was,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson earlier had offered in assessing his onetime franchise.

But it’s more than that as the Bulls still can’t seem to find someone to rely on consistently down the stretch in games. It got complicated, I thought, Tuesday when after opening the floor more with isolations, fast breaks and some dribble weave actions, the Bulls reverted to that side to side high pick and roll which gets Salmons standing around in one corner and Deng in another as the defense forms a wall against Rose and the Bulls stop moving.

“You want to get into that role (of closer),” said Deng. “Every competitor in the league wants to be in that role for his team. We’ve got to commit to that guy whoever that guy is.”

But the Bulls don’t seem close to figuring that out.

Deng and Rose divided 13 fourth quarter shots Tuesday, but were a combined four for 13. Noah even took five and was scoreless, though all tips and layup attempts. The Bulls were six of 27 in the fourth quarter while the Lakers were 10 of 18 to take the game. Brown, the Proviso East product, was terrific to open the quarter with a three and one of his highlight dunks. And then Bynum got deep for a three-point play and Bryant added a jumper to put the Lakers ahead 86-77 with 6:53 left. This Bulls team doesn’t make up nine-point deficits in six minutes.

“We kind of addressed it after the game,” said Hinrich, rounding back into shape with 11 points and three blocks.  “If we give this kind of effort night in and night out, good things are going to happen for us. On offense as a team. I thought we got off to a good start.  Then we started missing some shots in the fourth.  We probably got some good looks, but we just couldn’t knock them down.  They might have worn us down a bit. Tonight everyone played hard.  There was some urgency there.  Now we’ve got to build on it.  Even a loss, we’ve got to build on how we competed.”

The Bulls got off to a good start, and Hinrich replaced Salmons five minutes into the game as Salmons kept biting for Bryant pump fakes and fouling. Hinrich ended up playing 31 minutes to 29 for Salmons.

Del Negro probably has a decision to make before long.

This Bulls team with its lack of scoring can’t afford to ease into games, as it often does. It didn’t Tuesday, and the effort was contagious until they wore down or slowed down at the end. But they were scoring, moving the ball, making steals and disrupting the Lakers and even got eight fast break points in the first quarter.

“It was really fortunate for us that (Bryant) was shooting so well,” said Jackson.  “We won’t win many games playing like we did tonight.  We gave up about a gazillion offensive rebounds.  Noah just did a great job tonight.  He’s one of the most talented rebounders in the league.”

Noah even had four of his six blocks in the first quarter. Bryant was on the way to 80 points, but the Bulls were there and looking good.

While Salmons has continued to founder, shooting one of five for two points and zero for three on threes. He cannot seem to find a spot in the offense, and now seems to have settled on hoisting up jumpers after he hasn’t shot for awhile.

The Bulls seemed to operate better pairing Hinrich with Rose. Though a smaller backcourt, Hinrich came out shooting aggressively, making five of 11, competed energetically on Bryant, though without great success, and could take pressure off Rose as an additional ballhandler. It allowed Rose at times to attack from the wing after getting the ball back running through the offense instead of having the defense line him up.

In the perimeter game the NBA has become, you see more teams using two point guards in the backcourt, and it’s been successful for teams like Milwaukee, Houston and Sacramento to help open the court. Del Negro probably is going to have to face at some point soon benching the slumping Salmons and giving him a chance to find his shot against the opponents’ reserves. Del Negro has been resistant to such moves for the way a player might react, though this Bulls team doesn’t have much more time to straighten out this season.

The first quarter was a joy with Bryant going off like that and the Bulls coming out blazing fast with even Miller blowing by Bynum on a drive. The Bulls led 18-9 after Hinrich stripped Bynum and passed ahead to a streaking Rose. The Bulls got a scare then as Rose grabbed his side and left the game with a note from the team saying he wouldn’t return with a rib injury.

“He hurt his rib last week,” Del Negro revealed. “He went for a layin and turned the wrong way and stretched it out again. He kind of aggravated a muscle in the sib cage. He went back in and it felt better when it got loose. We’ll see what the doctor says.”

It was the Bryant Show then, offset by Hinrich shooting and Noah beating the Lakers to the boards.

“He was just making shots,” said Hinrich. There weren’t many times I thought I could’ve done something different. There was handful of times I felt like ‘I should have done this or that,’ but for the most part he made shots.”

“I just wanted to get a rhythm going,” said Bryant, who termed the broken finger the most troublesome injury of his career.  “I got here early and got some shots up.  I felt pretty good.  This is the most challenging one.  I’ve played with sore ankles, broken knuckles and things like that. It’s tough. It affects my follow through.  I’m still having a little trouble handling the basketball.  I have trouble dribbling through traps, but close to the basket I was pretty effective.”

That was at the left elbow, where Bryant went for quick postups and fadeaways, but he wasn’t beating the Bulls.

Rose returned midway through the second quarter with the Bulls down five as Jannaro Pargo and James Johnson were off again, missing all six attempts combined. It may be the chicken-and-egg thing for Johnson, who hasn’t played much. But he hasn’t played well when he has been in, generally making one nice play and then following that with several mistakes and misses.

The Lakers moved ahead 54-48 at halftime, but the Bulls put in a strong third with Deng willing himself to the basket and Rose providing the highlight by splitting a double on top and flashing to the basket for a layup past Pau Gasol, who had 10 points while Bynum had 11, the only other Lakers in double figures.

The Bulls bogged down again to open the fourth and couldn’t recover as no one could get much going. With Bryant sitting the first five minutes when the Lakers went from trailing by one to leading by seven, would it have made a difference to start Rose and Noah in the fourth quarter? Rose did come in with three minutes gone and the Bulls trailing by four, but you have to rest sometime and the Bulls seem fixed on a seven-player rotation until Tyrus Thomas returns, perhaps early next week. But nobody really was effective.

“We’ve got to take a positive out of this one,” said Deng. I’ve thought the last three games, even the Celtics game where we lost by a lot–maybe fatigue set in–we’ve played harder. If we play this way every time, I think we’ll definitely turn this around.”

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