Of the six games on their 10 day jaunt across America, Friday's visit to Chicago was easily the most difficult, at least on paper. The Bulls are an upper level team now finally at full strength, tough defensively, and sport a potential MVP candidate in Derrick Rose.
It would have been nice to see the Lakers step up and take care of a quality opponent on the road, something they haven't done much of this year.
Here's how it broke down.
1. Pau Gasol. In my game preview, I noted the difficulty Gasol had against Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and the rest of Chicago's frontcourt when the Bulls visited Staples in November, and wondered if something similar was in store tonight. Especially since it seemed unlikely he'd get any relief from what has become an all-too-typical heavy workload. Instead, Gasol played like the All Star he is, making six of his first nine shots during the first quarter, and finishing with 21, along with eight boards, four assists, and, importantly, four blocks.
All of this in 45:03 of playing time against the hyperactive Noah, a strong defender and relentless rebounder. Too often the Lakers got away from him, but as it is on most nights, that wasn't entirely his fault.
2. Kobe Bryant. There were moments he allowed Tom Thibodeau's defense to load up against him, too quickly settling for an isolation on the wing, or even in the post instead of allowing the play to develop, forcing the Bulls to rotate with the ball. The efficiency wasn't anything to write home about (23 points on 23 shots) but he did a good job moving the ball (seven assists) and didn't force too many shots. I just wish, given how effective he was later in trips after cycling through the offense and catching off screens and good ball movement, he didn't burn so many trips on isos, even when he made the right read (which was most of the time) and got the rock where it needed to be.
3. Defense. The 30 point third quarter Chicago posted stings a little, but over the three remaining periods the Bulls managed only 58 points, including 12 in the first and 22 in the fourth. The Lakers held Chicago to 41 percent from the floor, had 13 steals among the 20 turnovers they forced, and blocked 10 shots. They ended scads of the home team's trips before giving up a shot, and gave themselves plenty of opportunities to capitalize on the other end, generating 20 points off Chicago's giveaways. They kept Chicago out of the paint for the most part (30 points, vs. 52 inside for L.A.), and while some of Chicago's stars had good nights- Rose finished with 29 points, nine assists, and Luol Deng had a very efficient 14 on six-for-eight shooting- the Lakers didn't lose the game on that side of the floor.
When the Lakers hold the opposition to 88 points, they should win.
Honorable Mention: Matt Barnes. 10 points, seven boards, a pair of steals, and a block in over 24 minutes of burn. Barnes showed his value in any number of ways for the Lakers, but on a night where the Lakers had trouble generating any flow, his ability to crash the glass and create chances for "cheap" points was invaluable. Barnes clearly made an impact on the proceedings, even if ultimately it didn't earn the Lakers a win. Lamar Odom was also solid over his 35 minutes, hitting seven of 12 for 18 points, adding eight rebounds, three assists, and two blocks. Four turnovers hurt, but at the end of the night the production was solid.
1. Lil' More Help? In a big night in front of hometown friends and family, Shannon Brown tossed a goose egg, missing all four of his shots and failing to even make it to the stripe. Two steals were nice, but more than wiped out by the four fouls he picked up in only 18 minutes of playing time. Steve Blake was only one-for-three, finishing with three points. Add in Barnes' 10, and L.A.'s bench managed only 13 points between them (Luke Walton and Derrick Caracter also made cameos, as did Sasha Vujacic... for 28 seconds). As a group, they had three assists and six turnovers. Not a healthy ratio.
Ron Artest was two-for-eight, Ron Artest made only one of his six shots. Take away Gasol and Odom (16-27) and the rest of the team was a horrid 18 for 51 (35 percent). The Lakers need to get more balance. It hurt that they too often went away from their inside game, though the Bulls certainly were trying hard to pack things in and harass anyone hanging out in the post for too long.
Had the Lakers been able to manage more than three triples (they only tried 13, mercifully, though 23 is still a pretty wretched percentage, though on a night like this it could have been worse, I suppose). The Lakers don't need to be a dominant three-point shooting team, but the threat has to be there, otherwise teams won't give them space to operate inside.
2. The Second Quarter. Save the first eight or so minutes of the first quarter, it was a rough offensive night for the Lakers all around, but nothing was worse than the second quarter. 10 points. 10. Points.
Doesn't look any better in letters instead of numbers.
Games on 10 foot rims played by second graders are supposed to generate 10 points in a quarter. The two-time defending NBA champions, rich with offensive talent? Not so much. Over 12 minutes, they had fewer field goals (three) than turnovers (eight). Too many jumpers, too much carelessness, not enough patience. Games can't necessarily be won in a quarter, but they can be lost, and you go a long way towards doing that by scoring 10 points in a quarter. Doesn't matter who the opponent is, but if they happen to be good- as was the case Friday- it's doubly worse.
That the Bulls didn't score more than 24 points is actually something of a minor miracle, but it was there the Lakers totally ceded control of the game.
3. Turnovers, and a Lack of Opportunism. 19 giveaways to a team struggling to generate points. 21 opportunities to capitalize at the other end, thanks to mistakes and/or good defensive play. The aforementioned 20 points the Lakers generated off Bulls turnovers were nice, but it could have been a much bigger number. Should have, really.
It's tough to get away with so many mistakes on one end, unless the oppositions are fully exploited at the other.