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Ready for takeoff?

CHICAGO -- The talk of the Chicago Bulls' locker room Monday night was the new Kobe Stopper, young Jimmy Butler.

Well, that and a very loud debate over the tautness of Nate Robinson's jeans, but mostly Butler's defensive prowess.

The second-year guard was having none of that Kobe Stopper talk.

"He had an off night," Butler said of the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant. "He missed shots he normally makes."

A lot of shots. With every Bull besides Benny and Jerry Reinsdorf on his hip every time he tried to dribble, Bryant shot a woeful 7-for-22, scoring 16 points in 42 minutes in the Bulls' 95-83 victory.

One thing you can say about the Bulls under coach Tom Thibodeau, they are always prepared. You could see the scouting report was paid the proper attention at shootaround.

Bryant credited the Bulls and Thibodeau's coaching, but also said the Lakers' mismatched offense needs to change.

"Thibs does a great job," Bryant said. "Every time he faces me he does a great job. Most of the looks I had tonight were tough shots. Some of the credit goes to the young fellow. Butler did a good job defensively. A lot of that is on me and us, having to try to manufacture something 30 feet from the hoop with a low shot clock is tough."

Next time you Bulls fans complain about the boring presentation of a Derrick Rose-less team, turn on a Lakers game and take a gander at real misery. How much is that cable deal again?

The Lakers are bad NBA theater right now, entertaining and addictive.

"Very, very tough, very, very frustrating, trying to keep my cool," Bryant said.

As the Lakers continued their grisly play, falling to 17-24, the Bulls improved to 24-16, a remarkable record for a team without its lone superstar. Not that their coach is paying attention to wins and losses.

"You guys are the ones who tell me this is a good team, this is a bad team," Thibodeau said. "All I know is in the NBA, they're all great teams. If you're on a roster you're a great player. Anybody is capable of beating you."

Thibodeau is right. The Lakers made a nice run in the third quarter. But the Bulls locked up the Lakers in the fourth and all game from the perimeter -- 3-for-17 on 3-pointers. They also forced 15 turnovers.

While the Lakers search for answers, the Bulls are getting answers. Rose is coming back, sooner than later, and then, well, the only limits are with Rose's minutes.

Thibodeau said Rose is "very close" to his first full-contact practice, probably coming in the next week, but reminded us to be patient with his rehab. He might have noticed me hyperventilating.

So, of course, I ventured to the court and watched Rose work out against assistant coach Adrian Griffin.

They worked mostly on Rose's perimeter moves. Rose's quickness is certainly still there and he looked confident going from first step into a jumper. Griffin told me afterward he was trying to teach Rose some of his old-man game, the tricks that low fliers use that Rose can add to his arsenal.

So, for those keeping track, it's not just about getting healthy for Rose, it's about getting better.

That bodes well for whenever he returns -- I'm sticking to my original prediction of Feb. 19 at New Orleans -- because the Bulls aren't half bad without him. Butler's ascendance is critical.

Making his second career start for a hobbled Luol Deng, Butler scored 10 points and added 8 rebounds and 4 assists in 43½ minutes. He led the defensive charge on Bryant, who seemed less aggressive than normal, but Butler had plenty of defensive help.

While Butler didn't take the rhetorical bait from a crowd of reporters at his locker after his second start, when the cameras melted away and a few lagging reporters asked him if he said anything to Bryant, Butler had a mischievous smile.

"I did when I hit that shot on him," Butler said, before looking at my recorder. "But I'm not repeating it."

Smart move.

While Bryant smolders, Bulls fans should be thankful. All that complaining we did early in the season was for naught. No, the Bulls can't put together long winning streaks like the past two seasons without Rose, but 40 games in, they've played almost as well as can be expected. Imagine if they didn't blow those games to bad teams.

"I like our team," Thibodeau said before the game. "You guys, I guess, you don't believe me, but I believe we have more than enough. If we do the right things, we're capable of beating anyone, any way. We have to continue to do that. I still think we have a lot of room for growth. That's the way I want us to be."

This wasn't a typical Bulls victory. They were outrebounded 50-40, but made 9-of-17 3-pointers. Kirk Hinrich, Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson made three apiece, on only 11 combined shots. Don't get too caught up in this efficient shooting display. Let's just say Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni might want to audit Thibodeau's next coaching session on close-out drills.

Maybe the Buss family could just hire Thibodeau to coach practices via satellite, because the Lakers could use some work. I'm not saying D'Antoni is bad, but Bryant might be changing his story that D'Antoni was his favorite player growing up in Italy.

While beating L.A. isn't what it once was, the Bulls still enjoyed the win. They have trouble getting up for bad teams, but no one discounts a Kobe team.

"Every time the Lakers come to town, it's a big game," Joakim Noah said. "A lot of electricity in the building."

Noah's relationship with his favorite despot, Thibodeau, has been the storyline the past couple days. Noah was benched in Saturday's 85-82 overtime loss to Memphis and left the arena without talking to reporters. Thibodeau called it a "coaching decision," but Noah admitted he got a little mouthy.

"Thibs would never, ever talk bad or say anything bad about us in the media," Noah said. "But that was all me. I think he took me out and I was emotional about it. I was pissed off, and probably said some things I shouldn't have said. But you learn from it and you move on."

Like Butler, Noah didn't want to elaborate. His play spoke volumes with 13 rebounds and 6 blocks in 35 minutes, including a stuff of a Pau Gasol 3-point attempt.

"We moved on and we got a big win tonight," Noah said.

Gasol found out he was benched Monday morning. He said he isn't "excited" about coming off the bench, but then again, he's not excited about the way the team is playing either and told a TV reporter he expects to be traded.

While we worry about Rose's return, Noah's mouth and a brutal cold spell in the city, the Lakers came in and showed Chicago it could always be worse.