Bulls lose to guys wearing Lakers uniforms


Jan 30

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Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers’ leading scorer at more than 22 per game, had just gone out for the season with shoulder surgery. Second leading scorer Nick Young was out injured. The Lakers were starting some guys the Bulls had heard of, but not many along with Jordan Clarkson, Ryan Kelly and Wayne Ellington. The Lakers had lost nine straight, had won one game in January and were in last place in the Pacific Division, 25 and a half games behind the Golden State Warriors, whom the Bulls had defeated Tuesday in overtime.

So, yes, you knew these Bulls were in trouble.

And so about three hours later, Jimmy Butler, who earlier in the day was named an All-Star for the first time and then went out and scored 35 points, was left to ponder the Bulls 123-118 double overtime loss to the Lakers.

“I think we just sometimes don’t come out ready to play,” said Butler, who practically willed the Bulls into overtime with nine points and a crucial steal that enabled the Bulls to overcome a 98-89 deficit in the last two minutes. “We’ve done it against good teams, we’ve done it against bad teams. We can’t do it against any team in this league because anybody can beat anybody and that was shown here tonight in the Staples Center.

“We’re not guarding anybody now,” said Butler, which was the general theme of the Bulls post game locker room wrap up. ”That’s what you think when you think Chicago, how great we are on defense. We haven’t been that team but maybe three, four, five, six times this year. Tops. We can score the ball, so sometimes we outscore teams. But we haven’t been playing any defense lately.

“Guys can rah rah rah and say we ‘ve got to start playing defense, but we’ve heard it for 40 some games now,” Butler added. “One of these days we’re going to get tired of getting our butts kicked and decide to play defense.”

And so it continues for the most curious of Bulls’ seasons as the Bulls fell to 30-18 with three days that have defined their season thus far, a relentless comeback win over the league’s best team and a mostly desultory effort and loss to not only one of the league’s poorest teams, but one anxious to finish at the bottom five of the league in order to keep its draft pick.

It was a glorious return to play against the Lakers for Pau Gasol, the two time champion with the Lakers who was saluted in a pregame ceremony and honored with a t-shirt likeness giveaway. After a slow start during which he admitted to being a bit overwhelmed by the proceedings, Gasol finished with 20 points, including the tying basket at the end of regulation on a follow of a Derrick Rose driving miss. Gasol also had 10 rebounds, six assists and four blocks. Joakim Noah was emotional and terrific with nine points, nine assists and 17 rebounds. Noah made one of the great passes you’ll see from a big man, a behind the back beauty to Gasol for a 105-100 lead with 2:47 left in the first overtime that looked like the Bulls would steal this game. What a shame to waste all that.

But the Bulls didn’t make another field goal and Jordan Hill, who led the Lakers with 26 points and 12 rebounds, hit a 20 footer with 16.2 seconds in the first overtime to tie the game at 106. Rose, who had an awful seven of 26 for 17 points, dribbled out the clock from the right wing and missed basically the same kind of shot that he won the game with in Golden State.

“Couldn’t get anything (to fall),” said Rose. “Floaters, threes, go to shots. Just wasn’t falling; was one of those nights. But we were still in the game and just couldn’t pull it off.”

The Bulls were pretty much spent for the second overtime as Ellington and Clarkson scored six straight points around a Gasol layup and the Bulls never were much in it. They were within 114-111 on two Butler free throws as he was 16 of 18 from the free throw line with seven rebounds and three steals. But Wesley Johnson got up a loose ball and the Lakers pulled away to the finish as Aaron Brooks got ejected with seconds left, the most fortunate of Bulls in getting to leave early.

“When people play us they (should) know it’s going to be a tough assed time,” said Rose. “We used to have that; it’s just now it’s not there and you can tell the way people are playing. Definitely didn’t want to lose this game. Got to find the identity and just bring the rough style of basketball.”

And so a deflated Bulls group headed to Phoenix where deflation has been the subject the past week. And it doesn’t seem like the air has been taken out of anything as much as it’s come out of the Bulls with losses to the Nets, Kings, Celtics, Jazz, Pacers, Magic, Heat and now Lakers. Somewhere Philadelphia 76ers players are circling Bulls games on their calendars.

“Disappointing,” said Noah, whose enthusiasm again carried the team, though not so much early in yet another stumbling start. “We’ve just to look at (ourselves) in the mirror. I’ve got to look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘You know what, I’ve got to do better.’ That’s all I can do. Control what I can control as a player. I’ve got to play better defensively. I’ve got to do better for this team. I have to do better myself. I’m disappointed losing like this after such a good win the other night. Our defense is inconsistent. I have to look at myself in the mirror and do a better job for this team. All I can do is control what I can control. I’ve got to do better defensively.”

Noah pretty much repeated that several times as the reasons sound like excuses and the identity and reputation the Bulls had defensively and in hard work continues to float away like an untethered balloon. You can sort of see it and then it’s going, going, going….

Can a team regain that?

The Bulls insist they can, that it’s all there in their memories and the abilities, though it may be questionable. There are so many new players, like Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Brooks not regarded for their defense. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau with Mike Dunleavy missing a 16th straight game and no sign of a return started Mirotic in the 16th different starting lineup. After the Bulls fell behind by a dozen points in the first quarter and 28-19 at the end of one and 59-48 at halftime with the Lakers—next to last in the league in scoring and shooting–at 58.7 percent, Thibodeau opened the second half with Tony Snell. But it was hardly Mirotic’s fault as the defense leaked everywhere to start.

“We started the game with low energy, we were badly outrebounded,” noted Thibodeau of a 54-49 Lakers edge and with Carlos Boozer getting 16 points and eight rebounds in about 28 minutes. “They started out shooting 60 percent in the first half and any team that you give confidence to like that, it’s hard to shut them off. They got the ball in the paint and that caused a lot of problems for us (68-56 points in the paint for the Lakers). The second shot (30 Lakers second chance points) got us, the penetration got us; you just can’t win like that. We played low energy and then it came down to a miracle comeback to get it to overtime. We went up five, and then we let up again. You have to play for 48 minutes in this league.”

Or 58.

The Bulls played pretty good in some of it, mostly in a third quarter with that wakeup urgency when Butler scored 14 points and the Bulls got within 80-76. Suddenly, it seemed on script of a loose first half against a weak opponent and then crush their hopes. It seemed ready to bust when Rose pressured Jeremy Lin into a turnover and Butler ran out for a dunk to cut the Lakers lead to 84-83 with 8:39 left. Plenty of time to win by double digits.

But there was Boozer in the middle making another tough shot, the Bulls with four straight empty possessions as they continued to force up jump shots, though Rose did make a tough driving bank to get back to 92-87 with 4:31 remaining.

But Rose then shot a quick pull up three in transition, had a backcourt turnover and another spinning bank shot that rolled off the rim. Taj Gibson was denied trying to go up and it seemed over until this amazing minute of desperation that saved the Bulls and seemed like it would produce an astonishing story for Hollywood.

Not this time as this no name bunch of Lakers outplayed the Bulls down the stretch of both overtimes.

“The end of the day disappointing, we didn’t win,” said Butler about what could have been the ideal day. “They outplayed us. We didn’t come out ready to play and they whipped our tails from the beginning. We’re always waiting to come back. But in the end if you don’t start out the right way it doesn’t finish the right way. When we start off the right way, playing with pace, guarding, making good shots and making the right plays we are hard to beat. We didn’t do that starting out the game tonight; it showed obviously and the game ended the way it did.”

The book also is out on the Bulls: Clog the lane, as the Lakers did even starting out in a zone defense. The Bulls will fall into walking up and accepting jump shots. Play Gasol physically and run him out of the post. Gasol is a good shooter, but he’s been relegated to more jump shots lately. Of course, that also has enabled Noah to play more inside on offense, though he still has difficulties finishing. Do those things and the Bulls will walk the ball up, not much pass it around or pressure or trap you until late or they begin to realize the game is getting away.

The Lakers didn’t have trouble finishing with nearly 60 percent first half shooting, a 22-12 rebounding edge and 38 points in the paint for the Lakers, all signs of being outworked early in the game. Which is something new for the Bulls, at least until this season.

“I was trying to be aggressive at the start of the game,” said Butler, who was just two of four shooting at halftime. “I think I was OK doing that. But I think I have to do that every night and not be so passive at times. I think what it is we can score so many points now that we think we don’t have to guard anybody and that’s not the case. It hasn’t been working for us; it’s not going to work for us. So we need to stop doing that. We talk about it all the time, but it’s enough of the talking; we’ve got to get it done.”

Butler took care of any passivity after halftime, but it would take a hard-to-believe desperation defensive effort to earn 10 more unfulfilling minutes.

“I’m surprised we tied the game at the end like that,” Rose admitted. “Can’t keep starting off the way we are starting off; we’re letting teams get comfortable. We’ve got to find our identity on the other end. It’s got to be pretty soon. The only thing I can think of is energy; bring the effort to the game. That’s about it. In the beginning, they were comfortable moving around, getting to spots they wanted to get to and we did a poor job of getting into the ball. It’s something you just can’t talk about; it’s about action. If we continue to start the way we’ve been starting anyone can beat us; we’ve just got to come out with that edge, that energy.”

Seems like they are mostly using up the energy just saying it so often.

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