I happened to exchange a note with Phil Jackson after the Lakers pulled away from the Bulls in Los Angeles just before Thanksgiving to win 98-91, and Phil wasn’t exactly looking forward to his return to Chicago.
“We’re going to have to play a lot better next time,” Jackson said.
Yes, the Bulls lost that game, 98-91, though primarily in a two minute stretch midway through the fourth quarter when Shannon Brown, or that night known as Jerry West, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake, nine of 17 overall in the game on threes, hit threes off double teams of Kobe Bryant and in transition for a 16-2 run to take the game.
Yes, the Bulls, 12-8, were fairly awful Wednesday in holding on in Cleveland to defeat the Cavs. But this is a Lakers team coming to the United Center Friday that you can take.
They are 6-4 on the road and have lost four of their last seven, including four straight to the likes to the Wizards, Grizzlies and Rockets. They stole a “road” game from the Clippers Wednesday on a Derek Fisher drive just before leaving on this trip. They are a tiring team waiting for Andrew Bynum to return from surgery, which should be later on this Eastern Conference trip.
The Bulls had the Lakers last month, leading 81-79 with eight minutes left, when I thought they made the fatal mistake, that being thinking Kobe Bryant was still THAT Kobe Bryant.
He’s still terrific, and likely will be much better later in the season as he returns from his own surgery.
He’s second in the league in scoring at 26.6 per game, so he’s not exactly iron filings.
But Bryant isn’t having those games anymore where he just outscores you. He’s not quite as explosive, and a much better team player. He picked apart the Bulls when they went to double him, leading to that barrage of threes.
Bryant has scored at least 30 points eight times this season. The Lakers are 5-3 when he does.
So forget the double teaming. Stay hard on Pau Gasol, who is nursing both a sore hamstring and tiring body. Without Bynum and with reserve Theo Ratliff and now Derrick Caracter out, the Lakers are way short on talls.
They’ve basically got only Gasol and Lamar Odom, and Gasol has been dragging some with 40-plus minute games three of the last six. He’s up almost four minutes above his career average and seventh in the league at about 39 minutes per game.
Run him! Joakim Noah did a good job of that last time and badly outplayed Gasol, getting 19 points and 13 rebounds. Derrick Rose had 30 points in that game, and this is a game where the Bulls really need to push the ball and not walk it up like they have been of late to open as they adjust to Carlos Boozer, who didn’t play in that last Lakers’ game. Taj Gibson was big that night with 16 points and 12 rebounds, and if Boozer is slowed again, coach Tom Thibodeau should make the move to Gibson more quickly.
The Lakers’ edge over everyone generally is size, but the Bulls outrebounded them and mostly outplayed them if not for losing those three point shooters.
So they need to stay home on the perimeter and if Bryant wants to try to beat them himself, let him. See if he can do it, and, if he can, OK, we’ll all get a heck of a show, anyway.
I’m not sure he can, but I think less he wants to.
Plus, Jackson has criticized the team of late for individual agenda, of trying to do things on their own, and a rugged individual defense could be problematic. Plus, the triangle offense because of it’s good spacing is a very tough offense to double team against. The Bulls tried in L.A. last month and were badly burned.
So let Gasol and Odom try to make plays.
Especially let Ron Artest, who has been at his goofiest best this season, though halcyon. Artest is averaging about half his career scoring average and his latest is to donate much of his salary to charity. I do believe he is sincere, but he no longer seems to have the anger that made him such a great competitor, if a bit frightening to travel with.
This is a game the Bulls should win, home after a day off as the Lakers traveled all of Thursday, the Bulls rested and possessing the Lakers Achilles heel, the quick point guard.
The Lakers point position is weakest on defense, so this is a game Rose needs to be aggressive to start and forget the early postups. The Lakers perimeter is mediocre and the Bulls need to get in transition early, which would suggest to me Ronnie Brewer in the starting lineup. Harass the Lakers’ perimeter and try to kick the ball out and go from the jump.
Their old guys don’t really want to run with you.
It’s also a game the Bulls need to show something to themselves.
They have some good wins this season, namely in Dallas and recently against the Thunder. But they’ve lost twice to Boston and were blown out by the Magic. The Bulls are just 3-4 in the East and 3-8 against winning teams. If you want to be taken seriously and believe you are a serious team, you’ve got to start winning some of these games.
I’ve given them the game plan. Now, all they have to do is go out and perform.