Lakers 108, Bulls 93: Pau Gasol screams*, "Hola, 2009-2010 season!"
Oh, FYI. Here's a stat to think on: The Lakers have NEVER lost a regular game in which Pau Gasol and Ron Artest played as teammates. Not a typo. I checked with the eggheads over at Elias.
Betcha didn't know that one, people!
The breakdown is below (and for those who missed BK's earlier post, Andrew Bynum jammed his right ankle and is day-to-day heading into Sunday's contest against Oklahoma City).
Derek Fisher: Fisher's spent his entire career as a streak shooter, which makes a roller coaster November no surprise. Just because it's an established pattern, however, doesn't necessarily make the lows easier to digest. Take a gander at his splits for November, but make sure to down some Dramamine first. Results all over the place, and recent days have marked a particularly low stretch. 3-21 over his last trio of games, two of which formed "oh-fer" bookends. Fisher's been getting crushed of late by Laker fans and, if not quite "savaged" by the K Brothers, certainly singled out over his terrible shot selection. But knowing Fish's history, you figured a hot night was lurking at some point soon. "Some point" turned out to be this evening. 5-5 from the field for a dozen points, with a pair of treys buried for good measure. Particularly highlight reel-worthy was a sequence where he buried a triple, stripped Derrick Rose on the ensuing possession, then took the rock in for a layup. Chicago called timeout with the Lakers up a dozen. The atmosphere got no more hospitable for the guests.
By the way, another stat you may not be aware of: Fisher has NEVER missed a shot in a regular season where Gasol and Artest play together.
Kobe Bryant: I thought Mamba played a very nice game, despite 21 points coming courtesy of a 7-21 shooting clip. Obviously, you expect better accuracy from Bryant, but at the same time, the misses were never forced, outside the offense nor launched while someone else was wide open. They were quality looks that simply didn't fall. It happens to the best of players, and Kobe's no exception. In the meantime, he still managed to cobble out a near triple-double (nine rebounds, eight assists), blocked a shot, and after watching John Salmons go off for 18 first half points, limited him to the same tally at game's end. Kobe broke down the secret pretty simply: "Just paid more attention to him."
Bryant's success wasn't just limited to achievements viewed through the prism of this particular game. Tonight marked Bryant reaching 24,182 points, which leapfrogged him past Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the second leading scorer in franchise history. Only Jerry West- an idol of Kobe's who actually brought him into the purple and gold fold- lies ahead, and being part of ultra-select company ain't an achievement Bryant takes lightly.
"It feels great. I've always said in this organization, with this history and tradition here, you look up in the rafters and you talk about some of the best players that ever played. It feels great to be climbing that ladder."
A Return to normalcy: Gasol's return brought more to the table than his simply elite skills. Now fully intact, the team resembled what we've come to expect and see, and on so many fronts.
1) Domination in the paint, outscoring the Bulls 60-40 in the paint.
2) Non-stop ball movement, with twenty purple and gold dimes often created by the extra pass(es). That total could have even been higher if a few well executed sequences ended with cord and Spalding united, but if that process is on "wash, rinse, repeat," impressive numbers will surface more often than not.
3) Winning the battle on the boards to the tune of 51-44.
4) Lamar Odom leading the bench mob, which looked night and day different from the crew that's been struggled through several bouts of inefficiency during the past eleven games. "The second unit looked much better," gushed Kobe. "I mean, immediately. That's what (Lamar) does. That's why it was so important that we re-sign him and get him back."
5) Solid defense as the Bulls were limited to 45% from the field, a figure that's somewhat misleading, as the final five minutes of garbage time treated Chicago fairly prosperously. When the game actually counted, save opportunities in transition (where the Lakers are rarely aces), the Bulls mostly found the sledding tough, especially around the rim. Chicago coughed up the ball sixteen times, which amounted to "16+1" in the purple and gold's scoring column.
We talked during the opening video about Gasol looking like he'd been playing since Ring Night. But that "comfy ol' shoe" feeling registered a trickle down effect throughout the entire eight man rotation, impressively in sync while working a seven-foot piece into the puzzle.
"We didn't miss a beat whatsoever," nodded Kobe.
* - By "screams," we mean "politely greets."
Pau Gasol, on his return to action
More from Pau, on the frustrations that accompanied getting back on the court
Kobe Bryant, on the benefits of Pau Gasol's return and a little about passing Kareem.
More from Kobe on passing The Cap