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With Deng out, Lakers pounce
Perhaps there was one positive in the Bulls' collapse Sunday night against the Los Angeles Lakers. Though the 106-78 defeat was the Bulls' worst ever to the Lakers, it's unlikely that Kobe Bryant will want to play for the Bulls after seeing this.
Especially without Luol Deng, who missed the game with a back injury.
"It's just another game, really," Bryant said after scoring a quiet 18 points on 6-of-16 shooting.
The Lakers blew it open with a 30-14 third-quarter edged and cruised in, with the Bulls playing deep into the bench much of the fourth quarter.
"The first half we were a little sluggish (as the Bulls led 46-45), and we weren't able to match their intensity," Bryant said. "The second half we came out and were much more aggressive and were able to pull away."
Bryant said he was "very impressed" with his current Lakers team, which improved to 6-3 with the victory, He said he doesn't think about the apparent irony of reportedly wanting to be traded to the Bulls and the Bulls losing so badly to his current team.
When asked about one of the more ridiculous rumors — that Bryant was going to buy Michael Jordan's house in Illinois — Bryant said with a deadpan expression: "I actually thought about it but decided against it. I like Oprah's penthouse better."
Bryant said the Bulls "got off to a pretty slow start [for the season]. It's something they've done in the past. I don't think anyone in Chicago needs to worry about it."
But the Bulls are getting a little worried, falling to 2-7 for the season and 1-2 on this trip. Next up is a game Tuesday night in Denver in which Deng also is unlikely to play.
The Bulls were led by Ben Gordon with 20 points. But once again they shot miserably, just 34.8 percent.
They were outrebounded 51-38 by the much taller Lakers, who had six players in double figures, led by Bryant.
The Lakers also had five reserves score in double figures, with Andrew Bynum and Jordan Farmar with 14 each, the first time since 1985 the Lakers have had five bench players in double figures.
"I thought both teams in the first half were sluggish," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "We had trouble making shots, and they had some issues of their own. It was just a matter of at some point someone was going to pull away, and it was them. It was a very poorly played game by us. They deserved to win, and we didn't."
The Bulls trailed 63-60 with just over two minutes left in the third quarter.
"We were right there," Skiles said. "Anybody who saw [Saturday] night's game and [Sunday's], there was a big difference for us in the energy, focus. This is the way we've been. We bring it in stretches, and other times we look disinterested. We can't play that way. We have to be on in order to have some success. We're not able to sustain it now for a long time.
"The goal is to pick up the tempo on them. We got good looks; we just couldn't make them. We fought our way back in, and we had four wasted possessions in a row, they scored on three and pulled away."
Skiles elected to go small early to speed the game, often with three guards on the floor. The Lakers' Lamar Odom seemed unable or unwilling to take Andres Nocioni inside. The Bulls also sank back on defense, jamming the inside and slapping the ball away when the Lakers went there.
Clearly, the strategy was to see if the Lakers could make jumpers, and in the first half they didn't. The Bulls led 46-45 at halftime. Adrian Griffin started on Bryant, but Bryant generally has been passive to start games. With Nocioni and Gordon getting open on good drive-and-kick movement, the Bulls took a 21-16 first-quarter lead despite the massive size deficit.
The Lakers began exploiting the inside more to open the second quarter and moved ahead 28-25. But Kirk Hinrich found Thabo Sefolosha for a three-pointer as Sefolosha showed more aggressiveness than anytime this season and Gordon found the seams for a pair of jumpers.
"This was a game for the taking," Skiles said. "We talked to the guys at halftime, told the guys one of the teams was going to rise up and put together a stretch, and they were the ones that did it.
"Guys have to make shots. This is the highest level, the pros. To constantly be talking about it every day is not productive. "Guys have to snap out of it. Pro shooters make shots. It's what they do. If you can't do it, you better get in the gym and figure it out and get your head screwed on or whatever the problem is and make shots."