A friendly disagreement arose in the corner of the visitors locker room at United Center on Tuesday night.
“Mine was better!” Josh Hart exclaimed after the Lakers’ 123-107 victory over the Chicago Bulls, scoffing at Kyle Kuzma sitting just a few feet away from him. “That’s not even a question. Not even a question.”
Moments later Kuzma gave a more measured reaction that reached the opposite conclusion.
“I had more difficulty,” Kuzma said. “I threw a bounce pass. He has the wide-open little lob, but they both were cool. I give myself the edge though.”
Each player assisted LeBron James on a reverse dunk in the second half, both of them in spectacular fashion. Kuzma’s came first when he stole the ball and lofted it nearly three quarters of the length of the court, where it bounced and set up an alley-oop for James to complete. United Center replayed it in slow motion on the video board.
Hart’s came in the fourth quarter after a steal by James. He passed it up to Hart, who tossed the ball off the backboard for James to rise, twist and dunk it again.
Said James: “I’m always feeling bouncy.”
They were moments of significance for two reasons. First, they were defensive stops, which had been getting hard for the Lakers to come by during the preceding five-game losing streak. Second, they were fun.
“When you’re losing, it’s always hard to try to have fun, try to embrace just playing the game,” Kuzma said. “You get caught as professionals so many times this day and age, social media, everybody is so tight and tense when they play basketball, but, you know, just in general as basketball players we just need to try to have fun, play the game like we did when we were kids in high school and college. I think if we can do that the next 15 games, lay it all out there, that’s all we can really ask for right now.”
It was the Lakers’ first win since Feb. 27 and helped them improve to 31-36, while the Bulls fell to 19-50. James played 33 minutes and scored 36 points with 10 rebounds. He also had two steals, four assists and five turnovers. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 24 points on seven-of-11 shooting and Kuzma, back from an ankle injury that caused him to miss two games, scored 21.
The game started out looking like it would be the Lakers’ sixth straight loss, with Chicago leading 34-16 after a quarter.
“It was, you know, challenge them,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said when asked what his reaction was to the first quarter. “Like, what are we doing? And the same challenge as it was before the game. Let’s find our energy.”
Chicago’s lead grew to 20 points before the Lakers fought back with a 10-0 run early in the second quarter. At halftime, Chicago’s lead had shrunk to five.
“That second quarter we all just started playing with a little more joy, just played a little bit more free,” James said. “We got defensive stops, we were flying around, guys were moving the ball and everybody just felt a part of it.”
The Lakers outscored the Bulls by 19 points in the third quarter, and it offered the first moments for Andre Ingram to get some playing time on the second day of his 10-day contract. He was scoreless in two minutes. The 33-year-old journeyman had never played an NBA game before the Lakers called him up for two games last season.
James isn’t on an official minutes restriction, but if at all possible the Lakers don’t want to overplay him. The steal that led to his second reverse dunk came with 5:03 left in the game. Hart gave it up to James, rather than try to dunk with his right knee still injured.
“I knew if I went to go dunk I might be out next game,” Hart said. “If I didn’t do that it would’ve been a layup and it wouldn’t have been that much fun.”
The Lakers, 61/2 games out of a playoff spot, have four more games on this trip.
“We have an opportunity,” James said. “We go into Toronto our next game, we go into Detroit who’s a playoff team, we go into Milwaukee at the end of the trip. All playoff teams, all good teams. Those games will be like playoff games if we want them to be.”