Lakers call out naysayers, say they need Kobe Bryant

CHICAGO -- Imagine if the Los Angeles Lakers had won again without Kobe Bryant.

Imagine the reaction.

You had better believe the notion that the Lakers perform better without him –- which is heavily backed by advanced statistics -- would've picked up some serious steam.

But the Lakers were unable to duplicate their dominant performance against the NBA-best Golden State Warriors and instead fell Thursday to the Chicago Bulls 113-93 without the services of Bryant, who sat out for the second straight game to rest.

Oh, the Lakers still scrapped against the Bulls, cutting a double-digit deficit to two points in the third quarter. But the Lakers were simply outmatched by a team Lakers coach Byron Scott said was the best they've faced in the Eastern Conference.

And Scott had a message for those who say the Lakers are better without Bryant.

"Like I said before, those people are idiots," Scott said. "He's one of the best to ever play the game. You take him off the team, you're going to have nights where you struggle, period. And then you're going to have one night like we had the last game.

"Anybody that really insinuated that we were better without him, they're just ridiculous. We're a much better team when he's on the floor, period."

Entering Thursday, the Lakers' average point differential was 21.4 points higher with Bryant off the court compared to when he is on the floor. They were also 24.4 points per 100 possessions worse with Bryant on the floor than when he's on the bench.

There are more numbers like that, but you get the picture.

Even without Bryant, the Lakers played the Bulls tough, losing because they shot poorly, especially Nick Young (1-for-6 with three points), and because they were outrebounded by 18.

Scott told his players after the game that Bryant could miss as much as a week as he tries to recover from soreness that seems to be the culmination of his heavy-minute workload. (The 36-year-old is playing a team-high 35.4 minutes per game.)

Since they don't know when Bryant will be back, the challenge, according to shooting guard Wayne Ellington, is "to come together as a group collectively. Nobody can replace Kobe, so we've all got to come together and step our games up."

Ellington added, "We always miss his presence, especially a game like [Thursday] where they load so strong when the ball is on one side. He's great at really manipulating defenses and getting guys open shots. That's an area where we really missed him."

Young also seemed pretty serious on the matter instead of being his usual jovial self.

"We're always going to need Kobe," Young said. "We may joke around, but we're always going to need Kobe out on the floor."

Did the Lakers learn anything about themselves these past two games?

"I think we all knew we could play," Young said. "But honestly, we still need Kobe out on the court, of course. He’s still one of the greatest players to ever play this game."

If Bryant is out for an indefinite time period, the rest of the Lakers (along with any casual observers) should get a more definitive answer about how the team truly performs without him versus just seeing it in spurts or a couple games -- a sample size that's still too small.

Bryant, of course, saw Tuesday's game, in which the Lakers smashed the Warriors, leading by as much as 24 points, their biggest lead of the season.

"I thought they played extremely well," he said of his teammates. "They shot the ball very well."

The Lakers shot 51.7 percent, to be exact, and tied their season high with 12 3-pointers. The Lakers also tied their season high with 28 assists.

"The ball moves a lot easier when guys are hitting shots," Bryant said. "When we don't hit shots, I try to take the load on myself and we have a lot of standing around. The games where they hit shots, I sit back and let them hit shots."

Scott has said the Lakers need to find more balance on that end -- that Bryant needs to learn to trust his teammates and be willing to let them fail versus just trying to take over on his own.

And Scott still staunchly defends Bryant, pointing not to how Bryant has played over the course of the season but instead his career body of work.

"We had one great game without Kobe, and now everybody thinks we're a better team or something like that," Scott said before Thursday's game. "That's not the case.

"But as far as all that analogy stuff goes, if I had my choice, I'd rather have him on the court for 48 minutes every time we play. I know we'd have a better chance to win."