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Bulls upset bid falls short
Kobe Bryant hasn't regained all the strength in his legs or his explosiveness. Yet, he's still capable of having a breakout quarter.
Bryant dominated with Shaquille O'Neal missing the fourth quarter because of a calf injury, rallying the Los Angeles Lakers to a 101-94 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Friday night.
Bryant scored 17 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter after the Lakers trailed by four points in the first four minutes of the period.
"I just turned it up a little bit, started getting a little more aggressive offensively," he said. "You have to be a little more crafty."
O'Neal left for good in the third with a strained right calf muscle. He finished with 15 points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes. Gary Payton added 15 points, Karl Malone had 14 points and 18 rebounds and Bryon Russell had 12 points off the bench.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson said O'Neal asked to leave the game, and O'Neal took off without talking to reporters.
"I'm really not unduly concerned. He may miss a couple (of games)," Jackson said. "I don't think it's anything tremendously serious."
The Lakers improved to 6-0 at home, where they've won 21 consecutive regular-season games.
Bryant said taking over the game didn't make him any more encouraged about his overall improvement because he's been focusing on defense.
"I've been getting a kick out of that, just trying to help us win ballgames," he said. "Then when I have to, I'll step out and have a game like this. But it's not really important to me."
Jamal Crawford, who came off the bench again as the Bulls made Scottie Pippen the starting point guard, led the Bulls with 23 points. Donyell Marshall added 13 points and 11 rebounds. Corie Blount had 10 rebounds.
The Bulls lost their fourth straight and are 3-3 on the road.
"It's bittersweet because we competed so hard, yet we still didn't win," Crawford said. "A couple of plays here or there, and that game is ours. It would have been a nice one to win."
Pippen scored seven points on 3-of-10 shooting. Jalen Rose, the subject of trade discussions between the Bulls and Toronto Raptors, had five points in 22 minutes.
"It's interesting to see what's the next move. I'm not sure what that is," said Rose, who didn't know why he only played eight minutes in the first half.
"A lot of times in those situations, there may be more to it," he said.
Except for a tie at 72, the Lakers trailed the entire third quarter, when O'Neal left about five minutes in. They cut a five-point deficit to 74-73 by the start of the final 12 minutes.
Crawford opened the fourth with a 3-pointer and Marshall scored for a 79-75 lead. After Kirk Hinrich made one of two free throws, the Lakers ran off 10 straight points for an 83-80 lead with 7:44 remaining.
Payton started the spurt with a basket, then Bryant scored five straight on a fast-break layup and three free throws as the arena rang out with chants of "Kobe! Kobe!" Russell's 3-pointer capped the run.
"He had the hot hand so you got to give him the ball," Payton said. "Tonight was the right time. He did what he was supposed to do, get us a win."
Jackson called offensive plays for Bryant to start the fourth, then the rest of the Lakers overruled whatever other plans Jackson had in mind.
"He got hot and his teammates kept feeding him the ball, more than I would have liked them to," the coach said. "There was a little overkill out there, but that will happen in the process. We were able to win the ballgame because of his effort."
Bryant's offensive show was tainted by a technical foul with 2:52 remaining during a timeout.
"I'm not going to make an issue of it," Jackson said.
Crawford and Pippen scored as the Bulls drew within two before Bryant scored four straight and Malone added two free throws for a 92-84 lead with 4:28 remaining.
Eddy Curry scored three straight points as the Bulls again drew within four, but Bryant bailed out the Lakers with successive baskets for a 98-89 lead. The Lakers got off to a quick start and led by 11 points in the first quarter. The Bulls tied the game at 33 midway through the second quarter when Eddie Robinson capped seven Chicago's seven straight points with a dunk that drew boos.
Notes: Malone tweaked his sore left hamstring and received treatment after the game. ... Bulls C Tyson Chandler spent a few days in Los Angeles seeing a specialist for his bruised lower back and visiting his mother. Chandler injured his back Nov. 7 and has been in pain ever since. "Every time I wake up it's sore. It's something I'm going to have to play through," he said. ... The Bulls have lost six of their last seven games in Los Angeles. ... The new ABC announcing team of Al Michaels and Doc Rivers got its first practice run, calling the game in preparation for their debut Christmas Day when the Lakers host Houston. Rivers was fired as coach of the Orlando Magic earlier this week.