A funny thing happened on the way to Kobe versus Pau.
Kobe Bryant didn’t show up.
He sat out the Lakers’ game on Christmas Day because he needed more rest.
“Old age” was the main reason, Bryant said before the Lakers’ 113-93 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
“My knees are sore at this stage of the season. My Achilles are sore, both of them. Metatarsals are tight. Back’s tight. I just need to kind of hit the reset button.”
The Lakers could use a do-over on the fourth quarter at United Center.
They trailed by only six points through three quarters but then got bludgeoned on the boards. And, yes, they missed Bryant despite his 37% shooting this season.
Whatever energy they showed in a surprising victory over Golden State on Tuesday without Bryant was long gone by the end of Thursday’s game.
There was also a message for anyone who believed the Lakers were better without Bryant.
“Those people are idiots,” Coach Byron Scott said. “You take him off the team, you’re going to have nights where you struggle. Period. And then you’re going to have one night like we did the last game [against Golden State].
“Anybody that really insinuated that we’re better without him, it’s ridiculous. We’re a much better team when he’s on the basketball floor. Period.”
The Lakers weren’t fun to watch toward the end. Period.
The Bulls outrebounded the Lakers in the final 12 minutes, 18-9. The length of Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson was simply too much for Jordan Hill, Ed Davis and Carlos Boozer.
Gasol had 23 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots in his first game against his former team.
Consecutive possessions in the second quarter reminded the Lakers what they were missing: Gasol zipped a long bounce pass to a cutting Noah for an easy dunk and then beat Hill low with a left-handed hook shot.
Boozer had 14 points against the team that employed him for four seasons before waiving him in July via the amnesty provision. He was roundly booed whenever he scored.
Most of the talk, as usual, centered on Bryant, who said there was only a “slim” chance he would return Friday against Dallas.
He worked with a team physical therapist for an hour and a half Thursday morning, “taking care of every part of my body,” he said.
“It’s tough with our health team here, trying to find new ways of doing it because there’s really no blueprint for playing this long, at this position at least, in the NBA. We’re really trying to figure new things out, trying to see what’s out there, trying to see what works, what doesn’t work. It’s constantly experimenting.”
On the court, Bryant said he would try to find areas that were the best for him efficiency-wise.
“It’s habit for me to move around and be active offensively all over the place from different spots on the floor,” he said. “I don’t think my body can hold up to that anymore.”
He seemed especially disappointed to sit out a Christmas Day game, let alone in Chicago against Gasol, his former teammate and still good friend.
He did have a pledge, though.
“I’ll get back to being healthy, like I was at the start of the season,” Bryant said. “We’ll probably cut down the minutes.”
Bryant is averaging 35.5 minutes per game, only one below his career average. His scoring has been solid — 24.6 points per game — but he’s more than 8% below his career accuracy before this season.
He said he was impressed by the team’s effort against Golden State. The ball movement wasn’t as stellar against the Bulls.
Jeremy Lin and Nick Young combined to make three of 14 shots. Young also had his playing time shortened because of poor defense, Scott said.
“Ball movement is a lot easier to make when guys are hitting shots,” Bryant said. “When we don’t hit shots, then I try to take on the load myself and you have a lot of standing around. In games where they hit shots, I sit back and let them hit shots.”
The Lakers didn’t hit much of anything Thursday, including 29.2% success in the fourth quarter.
It’s nothing new, with or without Bryant. The Lakers keep misfiring. And losing.