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Bulls drop ugly contest to shorthanded Lakers

An off night for Butler and zero from the bench did them in

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls came out firing, but couldn’t match the Los Angeles Lakers energy as they dropped their first game back from the Circus Trip 96-90. Jimmy Butler had a rare off night and the Bulls got nothing from the bench, allowing a young and banged-up Los Angeles squad to steal a victory.

Chicago led 28-17 after a strong first quarter, with Butler notching nine points and three steals. The bench gave the lead right back; the Isaiah Canaan-Dwyane Wade-Denzel Valentine-Nikola Mirotic-Bobby Portis grouping could not keep the Lakers off the glass or get going offensively. Los Angeles—down starters D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young—never stopped scrapping and capitalized on a good gameplan from rookie head coach Luke Walton.

Butler was flummoxed by a smart defensive strategy from Walton’s youthful Lakers, as they double teamed him nearly every time he touched the ball. While Butler was typically excellent in getting to the charity stripe a whopping 15 times (converting 13), he couldn’t get anything else going offensively. The Lakers aggressive scheme forced him into an awful 4/18 shooting night on mostly contested looks. The normally turnover-averse Butler also coughed it up four times compared with just two assists. We can probably chalk it up to an off night for the All-Star, but Butler will have to be prepared for more teams to double team him in the future.

The Bulls did get strong contributions from the entire starting lineup. Robin Lopez led the group with a career-high eight blocks to go along with 10 points and nine rebounds. He cleaned up several Bulls defensive mistakes with the blocks but struggled to keep the bouncy Lakers off the glass. Dwyane Wade provided 17 points and six assists after undergoing a minor tooth procedure that had him questionable for the game.

Rajon Rondo turned in one of his better offensive games with 14 points and six assists, surprisingly knocking down a few key jumpers. Unfortunately, he continues to give zero effort on defense. In Jose Calderon’s short minutes for the Lakers, the aged Spaniard was consistently able to slide past Rondo into the lane for open shots and passes. There’s far too many possessions where Rondo simply puts in zero effort. While I do think Fred Hoiberg should limit his minutes--especially in crunch time—the Bulls have little to nothing behind him on the depth chart.

With Michael Carter-Williams still out, Isaiah Canaan saw 26 minutes of court time. He couldn’t buy a shot most of the night, missing seven of nine while only providing one assist. Canaan’s NBA value is almost solely predicated on his three-point shooting, where he has come up painfully short this season: just 30.2 percent.

Canaan was a team-worst -18, but the entire bench failed to show up tonight. Collectively, they shot 25 percent (7/25) and just 1/11 from behind the arc. Neither Jerian Grant or Denzel Valentine was able to provide much in their stints, though Valentine may have delivered the play of the game:

Bobby Portis continued to receive bench minutes at center, and the Bulls continued to get smacked in those stints. Asking him to play defense at the center position is a tall task and the Lakers exploited him on that end numerous times. Nobody on the Chicago bench was able to step up in any way tonight, as they were outscored by 14 points in the short eight minutes Jimmy Butler rested.

Julius Randle led a furious Lakers rebounding attack with a whopping 20 boards, including nine on the offensive glass. Los Angeles as a team outboarded the Bulls 60-46 and grabbed 36 percent of offensive rebounds, including 44 percent in the first half. Taj Gibson did a good job battling, but fouled out with the game in the balance and a few minutes still on the clock. He had 11 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and two blocks.

Ultimately, the combination of Chicago’s rebounding difficulties and inability to knock down jumpers did them in. Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams (18 points apiece) led the Lakers’ bench to 56 points, underscoring the struggles of the Bulls’ reserve units. Getting Doug McDermott and Michael Carter-Williams back eventually will undoubtedly help, but it’s on Fred Hoiberg to find better lineups when Jimmy Butler has to leave the game.