Five things to take away from Lakers' 98-91 victory over the Chicago Bulls
1. The Lakers proved their resilience.They for far too long coasted to double-digit victories, featuring beautiful team chemistry, plenty of rest for starters and a good time had by all. With exception to the Lakers' stretch against Minnesota, Denver and Phoenix, the team all season had demonstrated the maturity, hunger and strong learning curve to suggest they're championship material. Even though the Lakers have had the right attitude, it's become difficult discerning how good this team is simply because it's lacked tough competition.
That's why the Lakers' 98-91 victory Tuesday over the Chicago Bulls proved beneficial because it came against a playoff-caliber opponent, included challenges the Lakers had to overcome and showed the good habits they nurtured earlier has paid off.
2. Kobe Bryant literally orchestrated the offense. It wouldn't be surprising Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau would throw the kitchen sink at Bryant, considering his long-held familiarity goes way back to when he was a 76ers assistant and worked with Bryant when he played at Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia. The relationship continued in the 2008 and 2010 Finals where Thibodeau as an associate head coach for the Celtics devised defensive schemes to make Bryant work for his points and allow his production to inhibit the rest of the offense.
None of that happened this time around, despite meeting constant double teams in the post. When Bryant saw that, he immediately looked for open cutters driving through the lane and made hockey assists through efficient swing passes along the perimeter. When the Bulls played him up front, Bryant punished them, resulting in 20 points on eight of 18 shooting.
3. The Killer B's made key contributions. It's not surprising to know that Shannon Brown scored 21 points on seven of 14 shooting, including a five of 10 mark from the field. It's not surprising to know Matt Barnes remained relentless in cutting to the lane, grabbing rebounds and making hustle plays. And it's not surprising Steve Blake made timely passes and properly directed the offense. This is a role they've provided all season. But it's comforting for the Lakers to know that their main bench corps can help fill in the gaps when their starters are having bad nights, such as Ron Artest (one of eight), Derek Fisher (zero of six) and Pau Gasol (three of 10).
4. Pau Gasol struggled against Chicago. I've often noticed that Gasol's consistency remains so steady and predictable, it's often hard to remember what the Lakers would look like without it. Credit the Lakers for making adjustments to absorb Gasol's off night, finishing with 12 points on three of 10 shooting. But he really allowed Joakim Noah to rattle his focus. The first challenge involved getting the ball inside period. Gasol attempted only one shot in the first quarter, as the team appeared tentative in feeding him and he remained hesitant into trying to battle for position.
Even when he did receive touches, nothing seemed to go right. His shot looked flat. He had poor lift. And he had weak positioning. I wouldn't draw anything big from this, as Gasol's been remarkably consistent. But it seems that when Gasol has an off night, it's severely noticeable. Expect him to wash it out of his system Friday against Utah.
5. The Lakers could do very little to stop Derrick Rose. You can't really fault the Lakers, considering Rose's quickness proves hard to stop regardless of what defenses do to him. Rose scored 30 points on 11 of 25 shooting by driving through the lane and exploiting the Lakers' poor help defense. He drove to the rack and found open outside shots off screen and rolls. And his lightning speed indirectly led to Fisher and Artest having poor offensive nights, as they exerted nearly all their energy on trying to defend him.
What made it more challenging is that Rose didn't feel like he had to make his shots. The Bulls outrebounded the Lakers, 46-38, and converted on 26 second-chance points, a factor that would've doomed the Lakers had they not adjusted in the fourth quarter and held Chicago to 31.3% shooting and Rose to a zero of four clip.
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Photo: Kobe Bryant tries to find a way around a double team by Chicago's Joakim Noah and Luol Deng during the Lakers' victory Tuesday night. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times
Photo: Shannon Brown takes to the air looking for two of his 21 points off the bench against the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night at Staples Center. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times