Gasol returns, posts double-double as Lakers crush Bulls

LOS ANGELES -- Until Thursday night, Pau Gasol had made more appearances this fall on "CSI: Miami" than in the Los Angeles Lakers' starting lineup.

The Spanish 7-footer finally got back to his day job in a dynamic season debut that suggested just how good the defending NBA champions can be when they're whole.

Gasol had 24 points and 13 rebounds, and Kobe Bryant scored 21 points while passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the Lakers' career scoring chart in Los Angeles' 108-93 victory over the Chicago Bulls.

Ron Artest added 15 points for the Lakers, who finally had their full starting lineup intact for their ninth victory in 12 games to start the season. Although key reserve Luke Walton is out following back surgery, Los Angeles finally can begin building team chemistry around Bryant and Gasol, the pillars of their title run last summer.

"Definitely, I missed it a lot," said Gasol, who sat out the Lakers' first 11 games with a right hamstring injury. "It's so much fun to play with our guys in front of our crowd. I really wasn't expecting to be as effective as I was tonight, but my teammates found me a couple of times and made it easy."

Although Gasol confessed to loving the extra-long timeouts of a nationally televised game, he appeared fully healthy in his first appearance since early in the preseason. Gasol scored 10 of the Lakers' first 13 points, moving easily on his injured leg while playing 34 minutes.

"It feels great. We have our squad now," Bryant said. "Obviously, we can't wait to get Luke back, but having Pau back is huge. We didn't miss a beat, either. We have a bunch of guys that can post. We have the advantage."

Bryant clearly took a back seat to Gasol early on in a 7-for-21 shooting night, but still added nine rebounds and eight assists. And two days after Bryant posted his 100th career 40-point game, he reached yet another milestone.

With a free throw in the third quarter, Bryant passed Abdul-Jabbar (24,276) for second place on the Lakers' career scoring list, leaving him trailing only Jerry West (25,192).

With 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Gasol in a starting lineup described by Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro as "really, really long," the champs had little trouble with the Bulls, opening a 20-point lead in the third quarter before beating them for the eighth time in nine meetings.

Derrick Rose had 20 points and John Salmons scored all 18 of his points in the first half for the Bulls, who lost on the second stop of a taxing six-game road trip.

"Their length is definitely their biggest strength," said Joakim Noah, who had 12 points and 15 rebounds. "To me, the most amazing thing about it is you're out there competing hard, and these guys are hardly breaking a sweat because they're so comfortable running their offense. They look like it's very easy."

Before beating Sacramento on Tuesday, the Bulls were 9-56 since Michael Jordan's departure on the annual fall road trip made necessary by the circus occupying the United Center around Thanksgiving. Chicago still must stop in Denver, Portland, Utah and Milwaukee before getting home in December.

Although Bryant's shot was off early, he scored 11 points in the second quarter to put Los Angeles up 53-42 at halftime. Rose's 2-for-11 shooting in the first half slowed down the Bulls, who had won two straight.

"It definitely wasn't the right time [to face the Lakers]," Rose said. "You've got two 7-footers out there tipping balls to each other. It's tough. Doesn't matter if it's (Gasol's) first game or last. He's a great player."

Gasol played in just two preseason games before sitting down with a hamstring injury that didn't appear to improve much with rest. He wondered aloud whether his hectic schedule over the past two years -- including a summer with an NBA title run and a tournament MVP award at the European championships in Poland -- had worn down his body.

Gasol tipped in Andrew Bynum's missed layup on the Lakers' first possession and hit two free throws the next time down. Gasol got the ball in the high post on the third possession and fed it to Bynum down low, illustrating the versatility of the triangle offense.

"I liked most of the combinations we had out there," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "[Gasol] had a lot of things bounce his way off that offensive board, and he had some easy shots. I didn't want to play for that many minutes, but we had got into some foul trouble, and it became necessary."

Six Lakers scored in double figures, including 12 for Derek Fisher.

Game notes
Bulls F Taj Gibson worked out with his former teammates at USC on Wednesday, Del Negro said. The rookie starter had four points and seven rebounds against the Lakers. ... Lamar Odom and Chicago's Kirk Hinrich exchanged insults after a hard foul by Hinrich in the third quarter. Odom needed six stitches in his right eyebrow after the game. ... California first lady Maria Shriver attended the game.