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December 16, 2009
Five Thoughts
Lakers-Bulls

by Bradford Doolittle

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The timing was not good for the Bulls to be facing the Lakers on Tuesday.

With Chicago having lost 10 of 12, most of those losses coming in less-than-competitive outings, an offensive drowning in a sea of contested jumpers and a coach with his proverbial feet to the fire, the last faces Vinny Del Negro and company needed to see were those of Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant. As it turned out, the Bulls played half of a solid game and turned in maximum effort throughout, enough to give the fans at the United Center an entertaining and competitive game. In the end, however, it was another loss for the Bulls, who dropped to a season-worst seven games under .500. Meanwhile, the Lakers evened their record at 1-1 in the second game of their first extended road trip of the season.

GAME FLOW

LOS ANGELES LAKERS
                  Poss   oRTG   eFG%  oREB%  FT/FGA  TO%
First Quarter      23   134.3   .565   .364   .217  .130
Second Quarter     23   102.0   .526   .000   .158  .089
Third Quarter      23    78.5   .237   .167   .474  .087
Fourth Quarter     23   105.9   .583   .200   .167  .265
--------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF         46   118.4   .548   .167   .190  .110
SECOND HALF        46    92.1   .405   .167   .324  .093
========================================================
FINAL              91   105.2   .481   .171   .253  .143
========================================================

CHICAGO BULLS Poss oRTG eFG% oREB% FT/FGA TO% First Quarter 23 134.3 .580 .500 .080 .130 Second Quarter 23 75.4 .269 .353 .115 .044 Third Quarter 23 109.0 .556 .286 .278 .174 Fourth Quarter 23 61.8 .241 .474 .037 .177 -------------------------------------------------------- FIRST HALF 46 105.2 .422 .407 .098 .088 SECOND HALF 46 85.5 .367 .440 .133 .092 ======================================================== FINAL 91 95.4 .396 .415 .115 .132 ========================================================

As I mentioned, the Bulls played half a solid game, alternating good and terrible offensive quarters throughout the game. Chicago hung close thanks to yeoman's work off the glass. The Bulls grabbed over 40 percent of their own misses, led by Joakim Noah who snagged 14 of his 20 rebounds off the offensive glass. In the end, the Bulls just couldn't put the ball in the basket often enought to hang with the champs. The clang of ball hitting rim has become a familiar sound around the United Center.

My takeaways from Tuesday's game:

1. Kobe's broken finger may or may not be a story
The broken finger on Kobe Bryant's shooting hand was one of the main storylines heading into Tuesday's game. With the Lakers, there is always more than one story to follow, like Phil Jackson's return to Chicago and anything that comes out of the mouth of the always quotable Ron Artest. But in terms of actual basketball, I was anxious to see if Bryant's injury was going to hinder his jump shot. As great as players like Bryant, Michael Jordan, LeBron James and a few others may be athletically, so much of their stature in the game stems from the simple fact that they have an uncanny knack for getting the ball into the basket. If Bryant's ability to do that were to be significantly diminished, it could be a major story in the Western Conference. When I asked Vinny Del Negro if the injury in any way altered how the Bulls would approach defending Kobe, he said it wouldn't, then he looked at me with that "I want to laugh at you" face. Then again, Del Negro always looks like that.

Anyhow, I found myself zeroed in on Bryant during the Lakers' warmup drills. He made a few jumpers. He missed a few. Was that good? Bad? I had no idea because no one, not even me, has ever been crazy enough to chart shots during warmups. Anyway, there wasn't any notable hitch in his delivery.

With two minutes left to play in the first quarter, Bryant had already rung up 20 points. Two-zero. Suffice to say, the little splint Bryant wore on the index finger of his right hand was a non-factor when it came to shooting. He finished with 42 points on a 15-of-26 performance from the floor. After the game, Bryant said he thought it was important for him to have a big game because he didn't want opponents to sense any signs of weakness. He sounded just like Michael Corleone.

The story isn't likely to go away, however. Bryant himself said this injury is the most difficult one with which he has had to contend in his career. He turned the ball over eight times against Chicago. He seemed to have a tough time protecting the ball when making a spin move and also delivered a handful of errant passes that would have made Rex Grossman wince. So stay tuned.

2. Joakim Noah has game

Noah's 14 offensive rebounds were the most by a player this season, three more than Zach Randolph, Greg Oden and Ben Wallace have compiled at various points this season. Noah also did solid work on Pau Gasol, holding him to 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting. Noah was still diving out of bounds for loose balls well after the game was decided. While he still has an ineffective outside shot, which he has tried to integrate into his game this season, and made a couple of absentminded turnovers last night, he's still one of the more fun players to watch in the league, especially for a non-scorer.

3. Chicago needs to run more
The Bulls were at their best when pushing the ball up the court in transition. Luol Deng had trouble with Ron Artest in halfcourt sets, but in the open floor the younger Deng was able to beat Artest down the floor and get quality looks. Derrick Rose is of course a flash with the ball in his hands. Other than Bryant, the Lakers didn't have a great shooting night and the Bulls did a solid job of locking up the defensive boards. Yet the game featured 91 possessions, a shade under the NBA season average. The Bulls are averaging 90.1 possessions per game, ranking 20th in the league. Del Negro insisted that the Bulls need to run selectivity, but a team having this much trouble getting quality shots in its halfcourt offense and also happens to feature one of the fastest players in the league needs to be pushing the ball as often as possible.

4. Bulls need more Rose, not less
Derrick Rose led the Bulls with a +8 on the plus/minus scale. I don't have an offensive/defensive breakdown of those figures, but I suspect they would look something like that nasty quarter-by-quarter split in the game flow charts above. More than on-court/off-court differences, which can be expected given the performance of Chicago's reserve guards this season, Rose simply just needs the ball in his hands more often. In Chicago's attack, he is often relegated to standing away from the ball as a quasi spot-up shooter. Not only is that far from his strength as a player, but it keeps him from developing his skills as the offense's primary decision-maker. He can get enough shots -- he had 22 last night -- but he can't run the offense given the Bulls' current offensive design. It's frankly kind of maddening to watch.

5. Ron Artest likes being a Laker
I don't really know how Ron Artest has behaved in the locker room in the past, but he really seems at home in the Laker clubhouse. He answered questions so long after the game, pontificating on subjects as varied as Kobe's finger to Tiger Woods, that finally a reporter reminded him that he needed to take a shower because almost everyone else had cleared out. On the court, the usage nightmare that loomed as a possibility when the Lakers acquired him simply hasn't come to pass. Artest is at 18 percent usage right now, over three percent lower than in any season of his career. His other numbers are fairly stable and he seems perfectly content to operate as Kobe and Pau's sideman. If that continues, the Lakers will be nigh unstoppable, especially given the tremendous defense the club has played this season, to which Artest has been a key contributor.

You can go back and read my in-game comments and get future Tweets at @bdoolittle.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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