The Los Angeles Lakers continued their very public implosion on Monday night as the Chicago Bulls handed L.A. its sixth consecutive road loss. The defeat drops Kobe Bryant and company to a dismal 17-24 on the season, while the 24-16 Bulls continue to look like a viable playoff participant even with Derrick Rose sidelined.
These four lessons stood out during the 95-83 Chicago victory:
1. The Lakers are looking even older than they are
L.A. starts three players with at least 13 years each of NBA experience, and the mileage has taken its toll. Playing their second game in as many days, the Lakers couldn’t even come close to matching the Bulls’ energy, and even 34-year-old Rip Hamilton was running rings around them for long stretches.
The problem is compounded by the fact that young gun Dwight Howard plays at such a plodding pace. Howard has the strength to vacuum up any rebound he can reach, but the Bulls still racked up 14 offensive boards because they were hustling to the ball and the Lakers weren’t.
2. Officiating is going to be a huge factor in any Chicago playoff series
For any team that lives and dies with defense as the Bulls do, the most dangerous foe is not the opposing team but a set of quick-whistled referees. Joakim Noah took a seat midway through the fourth quarter because he’d recorded his fifth foul, a sobering reminder that Chicago’s thin bench is ill-equipped to handle additional strain on its rotation.
The more contact the Bulls can get away with, the better their defense will be, and the better chance they'll have to win. Just as important, a stop-and-go game with a lot of whistles limits Chicago’s chances to turn defense into offense on the fast break, a vital source of points for a team with serious flaws in its half-court attack.
3. Pau Gasol is not showing any ill effects from his concussion
Although Pau Gasol returned to the bench in Monday's game, he was the most effective player on the floor for the Lakers. Eight games removed from a concussion, Gasol consistently stroked jump shots over Noah and led L.A. with 12 rebounds.
Gasol (a relative youngster in Laker terms at 32) also showed a good deal more energy than most of his teammates over his 26 minutes of action. If—as Craig Sager suggested during Monday’s TNT broadcast—Gasol really is on the trading block, he’s certainly playing well enough to command a significant return for L.A.
4. Taj Gibson may be learning a bit too much from Carlos Boozer
Taj Gibson is a smart player, and he understands that the Bulls need a reliable second-unit scorer to complement Nate Robinson. Unfortunately, he’s taking it too much on himself to fill that void.
Gibson shot a disappointing 2-for-8 from the field on Monday, largely because he was taking the same shots as starter Carlos Boozer: fadeaways from the post and 18-foot jumpers early in the shot clock.
Those aren’t even great shots for Boozer, an accomplished jump shooter. For Gibson, who’s much more effective around the rim, they’re a sign that he’s trying to contribute in areas he’s not yet ready for.