Did you ever see one of those movies where there's a giant and a little guy and the little guy wants to fight? So the giant puts his open palm against the little guy's forehead and the little guy starts wind milling punches and doesn't hit anything because he can't reach the giant.
That, worst of all, was the story of Tuesday's Lakers not-as-close-as-the-final-score 116-109 win over the Bulls in Los Angeles Tuesday.
The Lakers didn't seem to take Tuesday's game very seriously. Phil Jackson even yanked Kobe Bryant after a mocking playground type play with the Lakers ahead 79-65 in the third quarter. Bryant got into the open court ahead of everyone on a turnover and stopped to throw back for a lob to Trevor Ariza. It went awry, but Bryant gathered it in and stepped back to the three-point line and hit the shot.
Bryant barely played in the fourth quarter, coming in for the first time with under four minutes left as Lakers coach Phil Jackson used primarily reserves down the stretch. Bryant played just 31 minutes and had eight of his 21 points in the first half and didn't score until almost midway through the second quarter.
Then Bryant broke open a five-point game coming out after halftime.
It went something like this: Luol Deng miss, Kobe jumper. Derrick Rose miss, Kobe three. Ben Gordon miss, Andrew Bynum dunk after several Lakers' offensive rebounds. Joakim Noah putback, Kobe jumper. Rose blocked by Bynum, Pau Gasol running layup on a pass from Kobe.
That made it 73-58 Lakers with the Bulls into a timeout less than three minutes into the second half, and though the Bulls battled back behind some brilliant Rose drives, a nice hesitation floater shortly thereafter and a twisting drive through Bynum and Gasol, the Lakers size and the Bulls' sloppy and too often fearful play guaranteed a loss.
“They got too many easy baskets and took us out of everything we wanted to run offensively by taking away our first option," said Drew Gooden. "They were usually playing good ‘D’ and pressuring the ball. They did a tremendous job defensively on us tonight."
Chris Webber on the NBA-TV broadcast made a nice comparison with Rose to Rod Strickland, the slippery guard from DePaul who was a wizard in getting to the basket. But Strickland didn't shoot even as well as Rose does now, and Rose has more the athletic ability of Darrell Griffith or Dwyane Wade going to the basket.
I was a bit surprised that Bryant didn't take any defensive turns on Rose to test him out, though Bryant is smart. With Rose's young legs, he may have made Bryant look bad.
I also was surprised we didn't see more of Thabo Sefolosha, who, predictably, has fallen out of the rotation with the return of Larry Hughes. Hughes had six points and almost 19 minutes, and the guard issue that didn't materialize with Kirk Hinrich and Hughes hurt could be an issue now if it forces Sefolosha to the bench. It's clear Hughes is not in the Bulls long term future, so you figure the Bulls need to get a better idea what Sefolosha can do and how he fits with Rose, if at all.
Sefolosha didn't enter Tuesday's game until 2:29 was left and the Bulls were down 14 and Rose going out, the official end these days of Bulls games.
Now, the Bulls head into Portland Wednesday, and, what do you know, Greg Oden is looking like he can play. It's the 2007 No. 1 pick against the 2008 No. 1 pick.
Oden had 22 points and 10 rebounds Tuesday in easily his best game as a pro through the Trailblazers lost to the Warriors, and it will be another game that tests the Bulls smaller, mostly skinny front line with Portland also playing LaMarcus Aldridge. You'd expect Gray to get more time against Oden, who is settling in as a defensive player and rim rocking dunker.
"This is a team that's relatively thin inside," Jackson said of the Bulls after Tuesday's game.
Hey, Phil, can you spare a post player. You've got four or five.
You also wonder how much the Bulls will get out of Drew Gooden, who had nine points in the first four minutes and didn't score again. He's battling a sore ankle which he aggravated some before leaving Chicago, and there's also questions about Luol Deng after he was slowed with leg problems in the game against the Lakers.
It was a brutal—and probably unfair—night for Deng in many ways. He had just nine points and three turnovers and wasn't able to do anything much in having to guard Kobe Bryant, who seemed to be able to score whenever he felt like. Though that would be hardly unique. Ask the Raptors after giving up those 81 points a few years back. Deng also was being looked at frequently by trainer Fred Tedeschi after coming up lame at shootaround earlier. But Deng came in for his worst beating from the NBA-TV studio crew of Ahmad Rashad, Gary Payton and Chris Webber.
After the game, Rashad, who generally is the most positive of broadcasters, piled on the hurting Deng. He introduced the show as saying they were going to see if they could find Luol Deng. When they came back. Payton said he might find Deng in his pocket, a reference to Deng playing so small or invisible.
Discussing the game at halftime when the Bulls still were in it, Payton and Webber were equally tough on Deng. Payton declared: "Deng hasn't showed up and I don't think he's going to show up this year." Webber said Deng was one of those players who did nothing in the offseason to improve his game. NBA-TV was taken over this season by TNT and they're apparently trying to create another Ernie Johnson-Kenny Smith-Charles Barkley trio, and while the group was auditioning, it was Deng mostly being victimized.
“We’ve got a lot of things to improve on but we’ve got to keep on playing and try to keep on getting better," Deng told reporters afterward. "Eleven games (5-6) and we’ve just got to keep playing.”
Perhaps what was most galling—other than a gruesome 21 turnovers—was the deference paid to Bryant. When he decided to begin scoring in the second quarter, Bryant drove the middle, one time high stepping for a finger roll as Bulls defenders—to use the term generously—stepped aside like he was some form of royalty. Yes, Bryant is something of the king of the NBA now, apologies to LeBron James, but it was time for someone, anyone, to knock him on his butt and at least announce the Bulls were in the building.
Just like my old buddy Norm Van Lier was likely saying.
"I thought we did a decent job of that tonight, especially in the first half," said Gordon. "You see how great his is, though, when he came out in the second half and controlled the tempo of the game.”
Rose, as expected, was in the building and opening some eyes even in Los Angeles with 25 points and nine assists and though Gordon had 23, it came with six of 22 shooting as the Lakers gave him trouble with their size. They pretty much left Fisher on Rose with the occasional trap, but like with any great players, it's tough to keep the ball out of his hands for too long. But the Lakers constantly had Gordon in mismatches with Gordon forced, at times, to guard Vladimir Radmanovic or Bryant.
There were some good moments, though.
Aaron Gray did a nice job in the post with a season best output of 11 points and five rebounds. Though Gasol came out flying with 14 of the Lakers' first 18 points and ended with 34, the Lakers huge front line is not all that mobile and Gray was able to maneuver for position and some put backs.
It wasn't a very good night once again for starting center Noah, who was in foul trouble almost immediately as he was being torched by Gasol, and later was yanked after he was beaten down court for a layup by Bynum.
Tyrus Thomas was, as is often the case, Good Ty and Bad Ty.
Thomas came out hustling and disrupting plays, flying into the stands to save a loose ball, blocking Bynum from the weak side and then making one of the highlight plays of the season when he stole a pass from Jordan Farmar and as Farmar tried to reclaim it went behind his back and passed ahead to Gordon for a layup and then Bulls 33-32 lead. It is the promise Thomas shows with his brilliant athleticism.
Then less than two minutes later, Thomas twice offered up lazy passes that were picked off by the Lakers among their 16 steals for scores.
It was a relatively easy night for the Lakers, though now that you see them I don't quite see a dynasty. I was talking with Chet Walker before the game (my name drop of the day). Walker, the 70's Bulls All Star and 60's star with the 76ers after dominating at Bradley, lives in Los Angeles and I consider him to be the most underrated player in NBA history. Having split his career between Philadelphia and Chicago and then being an activist in the players' union, which shortened his career, Walker doesn't get the credit he deserves for being an all timer in league history.
He's still working on screen plays and seems to have a promising one some studios are looking at about college basketball. He produced the Mary Thomas movie which was a TV hit.
Walker watches the Lakers and says they're somewhat overrated given their buildup thus far, and I'd have to agree some. Their guards, other than Bryant, are small and give up penetration and Gasol and Bynum seem to both play center and sometimes don't space the floor well. Plus, they have yet to solve the small forward position with Radmanovic hardly suited to chase around the smaller, big time scorers.
It looked good against the Bulls, though the Bulls outrebounded the Lakers and got to the free throw line more. It suggests the weaknesses that the Celtics showed up in last season's Finals.
The Bulls should only have such problems.
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