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Monday, November 20, 2006

Call Them "Chicag" Because They Have No "O": Lakers Top Bulls, 82-72

Did the Chicago Bulls eat their Thanksgiving turkey early? Other than Andres Nocioni, the Bulls played offense on Sunday night as if they were in a tryptophan induced daze, shooting 27-80 from the field (.338) and losing 82-72 to the L.A. Lakers. Nocioni, who scored a career-high 30 points and made his first six three pointers, shot 11-22, meaning that the rest of the Bulls shot .276. The Lakers hardly burned up the nets (28-70, .400) but they ground out the victory to move to 7-3. Lamar Odom had 23 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. He shot 8-17 from the field and the only blemish on his performance were his seven turnovers. During the ESPN telecast, analyst Greg Anthony said that Odom and Dirk Nowitzki are the two most difficult matchups in the league; he stressed that they are not necessarily the two best players, but that they are extremely difficult to cover because of their size and mobility. Nowitzki has great three point shooting range, while Odom presents a challenge because he is left handed and has good ball handling skills. Kobe Bryant had 18 points, four rebounds and four assists but shot only 5-14 from the field. That kind of shooting has not been the norm for Bryant this year; ESPN ran a graphic showing the top players in the league in "offensive efficiency rating" (points divided by field goals attempted among those players averaging at least 15 ppg) and Bryant ranks third behind Dwight Howard and Kevin Martin.

Nocioni scored 14 points in the first quarter on 5-7 shooting, almost singlehandedly boosting the Bulls to a 21-19 lead by the end of the period; the rest of the Bulls shot 3-13. Bryant was content to move the ball around and hardly looked to shoot, missing his only two attempts.

Neither team scored until the 9:21 mark in the second quarter, when Maurice Evans' three pointer put the Lakers up 22-21. No one scored again until Bryant hit a jumper at the 7:33 mark. Chicago missed 13 straight shots and I was waiting for someone to shout, "Next basket wins." Then came a veritable flurry of points (well, sort of) that pushed the score to 38-35 L.A. at halftime. Young Lakers' center Andrew Bynum played very well in the first 24 minutes, producing seven points, six rebounds and four blocked shots. Later in the game, ESPN's Jim Gray reported that Bynum had candidly told him, "Last year I didn't know what I was doing and I was lost." Bynum's work ethic and determination to become a good player are very evident; he finished the game with 12 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots. Odom had eight points, six rebounds and four assists in the first half, while Nocioni shot 0-3 in the second quarter and still had 14 points at halftime.

Smush Parker hit a three pointer to open the third quarter, putting the Lakers up 41-35 and then Bryant hit a short jumper from the post over Kirk Hinrich. The Lakers' 43-35 lead seemed pretty secure--until Nocioni started playing "Around the World" behind the three point line, canning three triples in a little over a minute to help the Bulls tie the score at 52. Odom closed out the quarter with five points in less than a minute to put the Lakers up 62-59 heading into the final period; first he grabbed a defensive rebound and went coast to coast, hitting a gorgeous layup in traffic, then he converted a three point play.

Nocioni tied the score at 62 with his sixth three pointer in six attempts but Chicago did not score for over four minutes after that; the Bulls made only four field goals in the entire fourth quarter. The Lakers extended the lead to 69-62 before Luol Deng ended the run with a free throw. Then the Bulls did not score for another two and a half minutes. Bryant electrified the home crowd with a steal and great pass to Kwame Brown, who delivered an emphatic dunk on Nocioni, who fouled him. Brown missed the free throw. Chicago trailed 74-63 after a Bryant jumper and Odom free throw but just when it seemed like the Bulls were dead Kirk Hinrich made two free throws, Nocioni hit a jumper and Ben Gordon sank a three pointer to cut the margin to 74-70. The Lakers closed out the game by playing good defense and making their free throws.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, who once coached the Bulls to six championships, offered this assessment of his old team: "You know they're driven. They'll push you to the extreme and they'll wear you out because they work so hard. They're a hard-achieving team, and sometimes there's more froth than substance -- sort of like a latte. There's not much there. I didn't mean that to be an insult, but they have trouble scoring."

posted by David Friedman @ 1:44 AM

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