Lakers – Bulls Running Diary

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Inactives for Tonight’s Game:
Lakers: DJ Mbenga, Sun Yue
Bulls: Kirk Hinrich, Michael Ruffin

Hey folks.

To be honest with you, I’m actually hoping that the Lakers miss their first shot (before Bynum hammers home an offensive board), because I just spilled ice cream on my tie, and don’t want that to be a notion of good luck as the season goes on (dry cleaning a tie costs like $6).

Here are your starters:
Lakers: Fish, Kobe, Vladi, Pau and Bynum
Bulls: Derrick Rose, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Dwight Gooden and Joakim Noah

First Quarter:
Pshew, I’m safe. With 73 games remaining after this one, I would have been down $432 with all that dry cleaning had Kobe not helped me out with a miss on the game’s first shot. Bynum didn’t follow with a dunk, but Gasol followed a Fisher miss with an and-1 on the next possession. And off went Pau from there … Moments later, Pau’s jumper from the top of the key made it 7-6 Lakers, and at the 8:21 mark Gasol converted his second and-1 of the first four minutes after getting hacked by Noah. Chalk on a free throw on the next offensive possession, and Gasol was on pace for about 132 points (11 in four minutes). So that’ll play for L.A., but meanwhile, the Lakers were conceding the same wide-open jumpers that allowed Detroit to build a lead, and Chicago converted 6-of-10 to tie things up at 13 (including 4-of-5 perimeter Js from Gooden, a la Rasheed Wallace on Friday).

Here’s what should bode well for the Lakers as this game continues: L.A.’s primarily taking shots from 15 feet and in, while Chicago is taking all of its shots from 15 feet and out. You have to like the percentages there if the trend continues – and it should continue, considering that L.A. has players that can score on the block, and Chicago does not.

Ariza Note: Before the game, Trevor Ariza said he wasn’t feeling well, and has his head wrapped in a towel on the bench. He did check in near the end of the quarter, however.

Your first big time highlight play came at the 3:43 mark when Kobe made a Bull strain his groin with a crossover, then whipped a behind-the-back dime to Gasol, who finished with a flush at the rim. In related news, Gasol had already scored 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting with 4-of-6 free throws.

FGA Update: Ben Gordon’s on the floor to shoot. I know this. You know that. But seriously Ben … I expected better than 1-for-7 in the first quarter when you knew I was going to be looking very closely at your production. I went as far as to add up Ben’s FGAs for the season, and subtract his blocks, steals, assists and rebounds. It’s not a great number compared with most any NBA player (in terms of efficiency), but to be fair Kevin Durant’s number is worse. More on this later.

The quarter closed with L.A. holding a 30-29 lead behind Gasol’s 18 points, while Gooden led the Bulls with nine. Derrick Rose, however, was easily the best Bull. His six points, four assists and two boards were nice, but most impressive was his burst that twice brought him to the rim before L.A.’s post defenders even realized he was coming. Yet and still, Rose and Gordon didn’t give the Lakers too much trouble with dribble penetration, as had been worried about heading into the game.

Second Quarter:
Sasha Vujacic’s ankle is bothering him. If a missed dunk/layup attempt weren’t witness enough to this, his limping around in the backcourt after a nice defensive steal and a three-point attempt that was very short made it quite clear. Remember, Vujacic twisted his ankle after a rebound on Friday night against Detroit, and while he’s been playing the tough card in denying that it’s affecting him, Sasha seems to be battling through some pain. But hey … there aren’t many NBA players who don’t suffer ankle injuries throughout the course of the season. Vujacic is just getting the troubles out of the way early.

Four second quarter notes from the first six minutes:
1) The Bulls were already in the bonus after five ticky-tack Lakers fouls at the eight-minute mark.
2) Jack Nicholson’s shoes are yellow, and might even boast purple highlights. I think you should know this.
3) Lamar Odom notched his third block of the half in only nine minutes of playing time, to go with three assists and four boards. Great opening stretch from Odom.
4) Gasol hit a jumper as soon as he checked back into the game to hit the 20 mark, and to give L.A. a four-point lead at 42-38, which became 44-38 after a nice slash to the hoop resulting in two Vladi free throws.

The middle stretch of the quarter belonged to Bryant, whose eight-straight points were punctuated with a hanging layup in transition after he’d picked the pocket of Rose. Kobe then got some help from friends Gasol and Odom, whose consecutive buckets opened up a 55-40 Lakers lead and forced a Vinny Del Negro* timeout.
*Do I need to clarify that Del Negro is Chicago’s head coach? I mean, sure, his name sounds like that of a night club owner, Italian restaurateur or low-budget film star. But he’s their coach, I promise.

Let’s go back to Kobe, because he’s having an awful lot of fun this half. In the second quarter, he looked like a six-year old who not only went to Disney World, but had breakfast with Goofy and was subsequently taken around the park by Mickey, kissed by Minnie and … went too far there, huh? The point was, Bryant whipped out a few more street moves (some ridiculous behind-the-back-and-leg dribble that ultimately resulted in another Gasol dunk).

It was a bit early for L.A. to run away with the game, however. The Bulls responded with a quick 9-0 run to draw within eight after L.A. had led by 17 (obviously), mostly thanks to Ben Gordon’s 12 second-quarter points. Gasol did find Odom cutting down the middle of the lane for a dunk that temporarily stopped Chicago’s flow, but Gordon hit his seventh and eighth free throws of the game before Deng converted a putback to make it 61-54.

Two free throws from Andres Nocioni of Argentina cut the lead all the way down to five before halftime, but here’s the worst stat: Chicago scored 16 points in the final 3:47 of the quarter, putting somewhat of a damper on what had been L.A.’s best quarter of play since the third quarter in New Orleans. Odom did commit the foul that put Nocioni on the free throw line, but he was pretty terrific otherwise in nearly 17 first half minutes. Here’s his line: eight points on 4-of-6 shooting, six boards (two offensive), four assists, three blocks and three steals with only one turnover. That’s money, like Monday’s episode of “The Hills.” Seriously, Spencer, just keep talking. Everything that comes out of your mouth is funny.

Ariza Conversation
Before the game in the locker room, I spent a few minutes talking to Ariza about his gameday routine, which includes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, time spent with his eight-month old son and a nap.

Third Quarter
Here’s a good way to start a quarter: Get five straight points from Kobe Bryant, including a triple, and an and-1 from Andrew Bynum to immediately push a five-point lead to 13.

The first several minutes of the third were pretty relaxing to watch, which allowed my mind wander to which international player on the combined roster’s home country I’d like to travel this summer. Here are the options: Argentina (Nocioni); Switzerland (Thabo Sefolosha); Sudan (Luol Deng); Serbia (Vladi); Slovenia (Sasha); Spain (Pau); Congo (D.J. Mbenga); or China (Sun Yue). That’s quite a list, huh? I’ve been to Spain, and while it’s awesome, we’re trying something new. China’s too far for a quick trip … Sudan and Congo are going through tough times, to say the least … I don’t like to ski so Switzerland’s out … Serbia and Slovenia would be great but I can’t I’d be burdened by a language barrier and need Sasha or Vladi to come … so let’s go to Argentina. Final answer.

While planning my trip, I decided that Derrick Rose has already won the Rookie of the Year award, and that he’s extremely good at basketball. End of story. Game over. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. His slash through four Lakers defenders pulled Chicago back within eight at the 6:33 mark, forcing a Phil timeout, and gave him 16 points to go with six dimes and three boards on the evening. The good news is that Odom’s back in after that terrific first half. Even better, one of the Lakers outstanding IT guys gave me a McDonald’s chicken nugget (insert Marv Albert voice: “YYYesss!”).

OK, remember when we were talking about how Kobe’s playing a fancy brand of hoops tonight? Bryant, after receiving an outlet pass from Powell without a defender even close to him, opted to slow down and throw an alley-oop to a trailing Ariza, even as Gooden had hustled back for the Bulls to contest the shot. As a result, Ariza couldn’t even get the shot up, but sure enough, the ball trickled to Bryant, who instead tossed in a three-pointer. Ridiculous. If he misses that shot, even Kobe deserves some riding from the coaching staff. Eh … on second thought, that’s not true. He’s fine. He probably just wanted to add the extra point, anyways. Moments later Farmar laid in at the rim with his left and Gasol knocked down a jumper to make it 86-67 Lakers.

By the way, nice to see Josh Powell get into a game in a meaningful time (four minutes left in the third). Farmar added a three and Gasol a free throw, while the Bulls managed seven points of their own to make the score 90-74 at the quarter’s close.

Fourth Quarter
Lamar Odom’s otherwise solid night came to an end at the 8:22 mark as he was whistled with his sixth foul, and he was, predictably, not too happy about it. Kobe, however, found it extremely amusing, particularly as Odom couldn’t sit down on the bench right away with Bynum taking his time checking into the game.

Moments later came the defensive highlight of the game, as Farmar baited Chicago’s backup point guard Lindsey Hunter into laying the ball up in transition, only to showcase his 43-inch vertical in swatting the shot. I want that poster for X-mas.

The play got a little sloppy after Odom fouled out, but did produce another poster (this one on offense) as Ariza beautifully found Gasol in the lane for an alley-oop that made it 103-88, before a Rose triple and Larry Hughes layup pulled the Bulls back within 10 at the five-minute mark of the quarter. Jackson seemed content to let the guys on the floor figure it out with Bryant and Fisher resting on the bench.

Tangent Note: Since my girlfriend’s reading this from home, I asked her to proof the running diary for grammatical errors. Generally a great writing and basketball mind, here were her findings tonight: A) “It looks fine.” and B) “You talk about Spencer a lot.” Thanks.

In came Bryant out of the timeout, and in went a three-point shot for a 110-97 lead. Only problem was that Gordon answered with a three for Chicago. But L.A. quickly got an offensive board and putback from Josh Powell, followed by a Bynum dunk after Powell’s defensive rebound, and it was over.

So a nice, fairly easy win for the Lakers at STAPLES leading into a fun matchup in the valley of the sun on Thursday evening. Stay tuned for full postgame coverage on (that sounds like a commerical, huh).