I admit it, I thought L.A. had built another superteam. But the truth that has played out this season has shown that nearly every red flag with the Lakers was valid. They have no quality depth. Their guards are old and can't stay in front of anyone. Kobe has seen his offensive game fade after a hot start. Dwight Howard still looks like a guy with a bad back. Pau Gasol has been marginalized and benched. They don't have a coach who will force new habits on defense.
So maybe the real story of tonight is the Bulls didn't lose to another bad team at home?
Tonight's 95-83 victory over the Lakers was still an extremely fun one, mostly because it continued the season-long assault on entitlement that the Lakers season has been thus far. The Bulls were in a fairly-tight game throughout until a 26-15 4th quarter took any drama out of the final few minutes.
In what can be seen as quite the indictment of the Lakers, it was the Bulls guards that carried this win. Kirk Hinrich looked like the player who deserved all those Laker trade rumors the past several years, with a season-high 22 points on 9-11 shooting. Hinrich's January had been abysmal to this point, shooting 30% overall and 33% from three-point range, but tonight he was an insane (for him!) 3-4 from beyond the arc. The Bulls in general made a killing from distance as they started the game 6/10 and finished 9/17. It was Nate Robinson in the first half and Marco Belinelli's treys in the second that kept the Lakers from getting a substantial lead all night.
Another big story was a second straight big performance from Jimmy Butler starting in place of Luol Deng. Jimmy logged a Deng-esque 43 minutes and drew the vast majority of the assignment on Kobe Bryant. Kobe wound up having one of his worst games of the season, finishing with 16 points on 22 shots, and showing the rare countermeasure of passing after seeing how Butler could stay with him. Butler sometimes can struggles in other areas on defense, but for methodical iso-scorers like Kobe and Melo, he is persistent and doesn't fall for tricks. And when Bryant did try to force the issue late it was a complete dud, as he wound up 1/7 with 2 turnovers in the 4th quarter.
The Bulls frontcourt struggled overall, as Howard's Howard-ness did force Noah into foul trouble all night. That meant an uncomfortably-long 13 minutes for Nazr Mohammed, and he and the rest of the Bulls bigs combined to shoot only 11-36 on the night. They also allowed the Lakers to grab 36.5% of the available offensive rebounds, though the Bulls did OK for themselves at over 28% in that department.
Howard was unwilling or unable to really take advantage, and he certainly didn't help save the Lakers perimeter defenders from what the Bulls guards did to them all game. Even Rip Hamilton looked more spry than his counterparts as he got the Bulls going with an 8-point first quarter. It's rare to see the Bulls the more active and athletic roster, but that's how it was against a supposed superteam tonight. Chicago had 9 steals and 11 blocks, and while L.A.'s offense hadn't been the real problem this season, the Bulls held them down in this one.