LeBron James certainly does love eliminating the Bulls from the playoffs.
Of course, the stakes weren’t actually high Tuesday at the United Center with LeBron’s Lakers falling recently out of the playoff race and the Bulls being the Bulls, but a Chicago loss officially meant getting eliminated from postseason contention for a second straight season.
So, it was only fitting that LeBron put forth a tour de force performance to stick the dagger in the Bulls. James poured in 36 points on 15-of-23 shooting to help the Lakers erase a 20-point deficit and run away with the game, 123-107. He put a capper on his performance with a ridiculous off-the-backboard dunk:
How the game ended was a stark contrast from how it started. LeBron coasted through the first quarter as the Bulls dominated and ran out to a 34-16 advantage. The Lakers looked like one of the worst teams in the league, and with Zach LaVine out again, it was nice to see Kris Dunn actually be aggressive by taking it to Rajon Rondo.
The Bulls made it a 20-point game early in the second quarter, but that’s when LeBron flipped the switch and tilted the momentum back in the Lakers’ favor. James poured in 14 points in the quarter and got help in the form of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s 11 points, and the margin was just five at halftime.
The third quarter was an embarrassment for Chicago. After going back and forth a bit, the Bulls actually held a 79-71 lead midway through the frame. The Lakers proceeded to close the quarter on a 27-5 run as the game turned into a track meet and the Bulls’ transition defense got lost time and time again. Their defense was Warriors-game-level bad as Lakers players found openings all over the place, with Rondo bouncing back from his putrid first half to play maestro.
As the wheels were falling off, Wayne Selden Jr. picked up a pair of technicals and got ejected for some reason toward the end of the third quarter. It certainly looked like a ref how. By the time the dust settled, the Lakers won the quarter 43-24 to take a 98-84 into the final frame. The road team racked up a ridiculous 22 fast-break points in the quarter.
The Bulls quickly went on a run to start the fourth quarter, with nice hustle plays by Cristiano Felicio and Shaq Harrison, and it looked like we were in for a tight finish when Antonio Blakeney made it a four-point game with 8:38 to play.
Then LeBron shut the door, completely taking over the offense to put the game out of reach. In addition to James, Kyle Kuzma returned after missing a few games to score 21 points, and KCP added 24 big ones off the bench. Rondo wound up with a 14-point, 10-assist double-double and was a plus-5 after notching a minus-18 in the first quarter. The Lakers shot 54.7 percent and hit 13 3-pointers as the Bulls’ defense continues to leak oil.
The Bulls got balanced scoring, with Robin Lopez leading the way with 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Dunn played one of his better games in a long time with 18 points (8-of-16 shooting), nine assists and seven rebounds, but he did commit several awful turnovers and had a few dumb fouls that limited his minutes early in the game. Otto Porter Jr. added 19 points, while Ryan Arcidiacono had 14 points and six assists in place of LaVine in the starting lineup.
Sadly, this was a nightmare performance for Lauri Markkanen as his March swoon continues. The young big man shot just 4-of-17 overall and missed all eight of his 3-pointers, with several of them of the wide-open variety. Lauri also only had five rebounds to go with his 11 points and got punked regularly on the defensive end, with Rondo putting the finishing touches on the youngster’s dreadful night with a blow-by layup. This came immediately after Markkanen was stripped down low by Josh Hart on the other end after an offensive rebound.
Markkanen has seemingly hit a wall after that four-overtime game in Atlanta. He certainly looks like he could use a game off or two, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he got some rest days as this season winds down and the Bulls jockey for lottery position. By falling to 19-50, they’re 4.5 games behind the Hawks and still just 1.5 games ahead of Cleveland.
The Bulls don’t play again until Friday, when they travel to LA to face the red-hot Clippers.