The Los Angeles Lakers returned to Staples Center on Sunday for a game against the injured Chicago Bulls team. The Bulls have not had Derrick Rose in the lineup this season, but nevertheless, the team is once again one of the best defensive squads in the league.
Los Angeles entered the match on a two-game winning streak and tied with the Utah Jazz for the eight seed in the Western Conference. The Lakers have been playing very well as of late and they had a chance to sneak into the top eight with a win over the Bulls
The Lakers started the game off shooting well on the offensive end and they were getting clean looks near the basket. Dwight Howard did a great job dominating the paint and the Bulls had trouble containing him whenever he got the ball. Los Angeles hit four of its first five shots and took an 8-4 lead with 9:31 left to play in the quarter.
Los Angeles continued to play well as the quarter progressed and it found success on both ends of the court. Howard asserted his dominance against the smaller Bulls team and he played very physically down in the paint. Chicago had no answer for the big man and he grabbed five rebounds along with six point to give the Lakers a 14-10 lead at the 5:20 mark.
Dwight Howard looking like Dwight Howard. Healthy body… and mostly healthy spirit.
—Brian Champlin (@bchampLA) March 10, 2013
The Lakers eventually hit a snag on offense and the team had trouble getting the shots it wanted. However, despite the fact that the Lakers were not knocking down their shots, the Bulls were unable to find any flow to their offense. Los Angeles played exceptional defense against the Bulls in the first quarter, and it did a nice job contesting every shot attempt.
Los Angeles ended the period on a high note and headed back to the bench with a 20-16 lead. Dwight Howard led the team in scoring with six points, while Kobe Bryant had zero on 0-3 shooting.
The Lakers began the second quarter with several bench players on the court, and the Bulls’ second unit did a great job exploiting the Lakers’ weaknesses. Los Angeles had trouble containing the quick lineup but it tried to slow the game down and play at a tempo that best suited its style of play. At the 9:15 mark of the period, the Lakers held a small 24-21 lead.
Kobe Bryant hit his first shot of the game with a little over seven minutes left in the half and the Lakers were hoping that that could get him into an offensive rhythm. Bryant managed to score on the very next play and even though he only notched in four points, his teammates were doing a great job scoring on their own. With 6:02 left to play in the quarter, the Lakers were holding onto a 32-27 lead.
Kobe fadeaway from the free throw line. #Automatic
— Lakers Nation (@LakersNation) March 10, 2013
Dwight Howard picked up his third foul midway into the second quarter, but the Lakers opted to keep him in the game. The Bulls knew that they could put the Lakers in a huge hole if they managed to draw a fourth foul on Howard and they made it a priority to attack the paint with the big man down there.
Los Angeles closed the first half with some momentum and the unit on the court did a great job on both ends. After 24 minutes of play, the Lakers held a 44-40 lead thanks to eight points and 11 rebounds from Dwight Howard.
To start the quarter Kobe immediately got things going on the offensive end. The first Los Angeles possession saw Kobe attack the basket and get his first field goal attempt of the third to fall. The next time down the floor Kobe hit Nash for an open triple, allowing the Lakers to open up their biggest lead of the game. Chicago kept fighting, however, and refused to allow the Lakers to get any sort of breathing room in the game.
One thing that was refreshing for the Lakers was the performance of Steve Nash. It’s no mystery that it’s been a difficult season for Nash, first with the broken leg and then trying to find his role within this team’s system. But in the third quarter on Sunday Nash played a major part in leading the Lakers. With Bryant struggling, Nash carried the load offensively, attacking the basket and hitting his jump shots, helping LA build a double-digit lead halfway through the third.
Chicago didn’t let things get too out of hand, keeping it between 10-12 points for the majority of the quarter. Earl Clark made two plays to end the quarter that put the Lakers up 73-61 at the end of three quarters.
Things weren’t nearly as hectic in the fourth quarter on Sunday as they were the last two games in New Orleans and against Toronto. The Lakers were looking to coast to one of their only comfortable wins of the season, and the main reason was Dwight Howard. In one of his most productive games of the season, Howard hit big shots in key moments and made strong defensive plays to help keep the Bulls at bay.
Chicago proved resilient, however, failing to roll over in the final period. A run with eight minutes left brought them back within eight, forcing Mike D’Antoni to call timeout and regroup. L.A.’s biggest issue was on the offensive end, where they couldn’t get anything going for the first half of the period. Chicago’s defense did a good job of limiting Los Angeles’ looks, forcing them to take contested and low percentage shot attempts.
For the Lakers the biggest sign of optimism was, surprisingly, Kobe’s struggles. Not because seeing Kobe have trouble on offense is a good thing for the team, but because the other guys picked up the slack. It was refreshing to see a game that Kobe didn’t have to play well but the Lakers were still able to get a victory. For a team that has been so reliant on Bryant this season, watching other guys pick him up when he has an off day was encouraging to say the least.
Chicago never really was out of the game, but the Lakers’ victory was never really in doubt, either. In the end, L.A. held off the Bulls for their third consecutive victory, 90-81.