Lakers can’t wrap it up against the Bulls
Somewhat happy holidays?
The Lakers have habitually lost on Christmas Day since Kobe Bryant came their way, but they were close to doing something kind for their fans Sunday.
Then came the final two minutes, a flurry of gaffes wrapped up in a conga line of missed free throws and a pair of unsuccessful Bryant plays.
The Chicago Bulls escaped with an 88-87 victory in a season opener at Staples Center, the Lakers falling to 5-9 on Christmas since 1996.
It was better than their 96-80 embarrassment last year against the Miami Heat, but it was also worse because the Bulls should have been the embarrassed ones Sunday.
The Bulls had the NBA’s best record last season and the Lakers didn’t have Andrew Bynum. Somehow the Lakers were ahead by six after Bryant’s eight-foot fadeway with 54.6 seconds to play.
Somehow they lost.
“It has to sting a little bit because it was a game that we could have and probably should have won,” Pau Gasol said.
Luol Deng scored five points on consecutive possessions, bringing the Bulls within 87-86 with 20.4 seconds left.
Bryant was double-teamed near midcourt after taking the inbounds pass and tried to throw the ball to Gasol, but Deng stepped in front of the pass, setting up Derrick Rose’s one-hander in the lane with 4.8 seconds to play.
After a timeout, Bryant drove the right side, drew three defenders and had his shot blocked by Deng.
“Obviously there were a lot of things that went wrong down the stretch,” Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. “I give the Bulls credit, but we did some things to help them get this ‘W’ tonight.”
Bryant had 28 points, seven rebounds and six assists but also eight turnovers in his first game since sustaining a torn ligament in his right wrist. Gasol had 14 points and eight rebounds.
Rose had 22 points and Deng had 21 for Chicago.
Worth mentioning: The Lakers led by 11, 82-71, after Bryant’s layup with 3:44 to play.
Also worth mentioning: Gasol missed two free throws with 1:40 left and McRoberts missed two more with 1:12 to play.
Brown said the fourth-quarter mistakes were correctable. The Lakers should start with more free-throw practice. They made 11 of 20 against Chicago (55%).
They might also want to cut down their 17 turnovers, plenty from Bryant, who didn’t wear a protective device on his wrist, opting instead to have it wrapped with athletic tape.
Brown said he wished Bryant had held on to the ball after that late inbounds pass instead of trying to force it to Gasol after the double-team. Brown, however, had no problem with Bryant taking the final shot.
“One-point game, I’m going to give my best player a chance to win the ballgame,” Brown said.
Said Bryant: “[Deng] did a good job with the rotations and he came over and made a good block.”
The last time the Lakers played a game that counted, they were pummeled by Dallas, 122-86, swept away in the Western Conference semifinals.
Since then, they lost Phil Jackson, Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown while adding free-agent forwards Josh McRoberts, Jason Kapono and Troy Murphy.
McRoberts showed some hustle with six points and eight rebounds, and Steve Blake had 12 points, but the Lakers just didn’t have enough offense.
Bynum was missed while sitting out the first part of a four-game suspension for a hard foul on guard Jose Barea in last season’s Lakers finale.
“Bynum’s a big part of what this team does and will do,” Brown said.
The Lakers kept it close in the first half, except for the part where they allowed a 6-0 run in the final 27 seconds and trailed, 56-49, going into the locker room.
The same thing happened about 90 minutes later.
“A couple bad plays on our part and a couple errors cost us big,” Gasol said.
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