Bulls crush Lakers in LA 114-91

Perhaps the big question Thursday in the Bulls comfortable 114-91 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers was whether they finally stumbled upon something that could make them the team they’ve sought to be. Or just whether they encountered a bad team that’s just been stumbling along.

“I think we played extremely well, played together, rebounded the ball well,” said Jimmy Butler, who celebrated the announcement of his second straight All-Star game appearance with a game high 26 points, 10 assists to match a career best, five rebounds and four steals. “We just gave the ball to the open guy and were making shots. Guys were spacing the floor well. The right play was to make the pass and they made the shot. It makes my job easier, Pau’s, Derrick’s, when we’ve got guys who can space the floor and make shots like that.

“E’Twaun (Moore) is huge at spacing the floor,” said Butler. “He’s guarding and plays incredibly hard. I told him before the game, ‘Don’t think about anything, just go out and play and do what you’ve been doing.’ He did that and I like him in the spot he is in.”

That spot was the surprise of the evening on national TNT as Moore got his first start of the season, and at small forward for Tony Snell.

Moore had eight points, shooting just three of nine and zero for three on three pointers. But he had two steals and a block and several of the nine first quarter deflections coach Fred Hoiberg raved about and which led to a 32-15 Bulls first quarter lead that they never came close to surrendering./p>

This is a 9-39 Lakers team mostly engaged in watching Kobe Bryant’s final NBA season. Bryant had 10 points on four of 13 shooting as he lost the battle to the much younger and livelier Butler. The big surprise with this Lakers’ team may be they somehow got nine wins. So it will be difficult to make too many judgments about one of the Bulls few dominant wins of the season with 29 assists against 11 turnovers, 49.5 percent shooting, 21 fast break points and a 56-26 margin in points inside.

But the theory of starting Moore for the ineffective Snell seemed to produce the desired result.

By putting a third guard on the floor, the Bulls were quicker and more active, disrupting the Lakers’ guards and providing more movement and passing in the offense.

“T’waun was big,” said Derrick Rose, who had 16 points and several brilliant moves and passes returning from missing half the last game, including an underhand lob to Butler on a fast break. “I think he (Moore) should be out there. He’s playing great, he’s taking the shots that are necessary. He missed a couple of jump shots, but that comes with (not playing as much). I love the way he attacked and the way he saw the floor.

“It’s all about running,” said Rose. “There’s no way we should have three guards on the floor and not be running. When we have three guards out there at the same time it puts a lot of pressure on the defense, especially if we have them missing and push it up their backs.”

It was Moore’s first start in two seasons with the Bulls and first NBA start since 2013 with Orlando. He only learned about it Thursday morning after missing one game with a hamstring issue and playing a combined 12 minutes in the previous two. Moore has sat 10 games this season on coaching decision.

But he figures he could be back starting Sunday when the Bulls face the Clippers.

“Starting, that’s crazy,” smiled Moore. “I just stay in the gym, just stay ready; if it’s two minutes or 20 minutes I try to stray ready and keep working. My name is called I’m ready. I wouldn’t be surprised if the coach went back to it because it worked tonight; it works, keep doing it. I was pleased, definitely happy; been a while since I started. So it was pretty cool.”

It also made some sense for the Bulls—with the bad Lakers caveat—given Hoiberg’s desire all season to accelerate the pace of the offense and the activity on defense. Snell tends to be passive while Doug McDermott doesn’t have the quickness and has settled into a sixth man role. Nikola Mirotic is now out until after the All-Star break after appendix surgery. And Mike Dunleavy isn’t ready yet, though could be before this trip is over.

So Hoiberg was open to some variation.

It helped get the Bulls going like not often seen with a 58-40 halftime lead and 90-71 after three quarters and Cameron Bairstow playing midway through the fourth quarter.

Pau Gasol, snubbed for the East All-Star team earlier, responded with another big all around game with 21 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, Taj Gibson had nine points and 11 rebounds and McDermott off the bench had 15 points and three of six threes.

“I wanted to change up the rhythm a little,” said Hoiberg. “I thought E’Twaun was really good out there. Thought he responded in a big way as far as getting another ball handler out there. The ball was moving and when it does again we’re pretty good.”

It’s been something of a season long lament along with Gasol’s trenchant post game observation.

“We started off well,” agreed Gasol. “We usually have good games, good efforts after we lose games we shouldn’t have. Our issue is can we do it every single night, which we haven’t done.

“That’s why the mindset tonight was better,” said Gasol. “We had to come out aggressive, we had to set the tone, and we did.”

It started with Gasol, and though he demurred, he clearly was discouraged about being left off the All-Star team and likely was deserving. He was the only player in the league in the top six in blocks, rebounds and double/doubles not chosen. Plus, the Bulls at 26-19 have a better record than the teams of four of the reserves chosen.

“Little disappointed, to be honest, but I’m not making the decisions, not picking and it’s not my job,” said Gasol. “All I can do every night is go out and prove the player I am and it’s unfortunate, but congrats to the guys selected. I didn’t need any extra fire tonight. I wanted to play well. It’s exciting for me to be back here on this floor, which was my home for so long and I’ve been through so much. I don’t need to prove myself at this point in my career. I think I’m still one of the elite players in this league and I will try to be for as long as I can.”

Gasol was Thursday with deft perimeter shooting and precise passing as he and Butler repeatedly played off one another with the ball swinging across court for a change as well.

“We’d been talking a lot the last couple days about getting the ball moving again, side to side,” said Hoiberg. “Talking about the numbers when the ball moves side to side as opposed to one. I thought it was important to get off to a good start in the first quarter. We did that; we had nine deflections in that first quarter. Got us some run outs, got some confidence for our guys. Whatever Pau was doing whether trying to make a statement or not he was awesome, did it all, rebounded, passed the ball great, scored.”

It was the Bulls overrunning the Lakers from the start, Rose making his first five shots on a variety on crossover drives and then Butler stripping Lakers ball handlers—or not handlers—on three consecutive possessions in a run of nine straight Bulls points, six by Butler.

Butler had his entourage courtside, actor Mark Wahlberg in a Jimmy Buckets Bulls shirt on a big day for Butler with the All-Star selection and some nice support from Bryant, whom Butler head-to-head vastly outplayed.

“That was a guy I wanted to be like when I was growing up,” said Butler of Bryant. “I wanted to be in the position he was. Before the game he just told me to keep going, keep playing at the level I’m playing at. Made me smile because you have Kobe’s respect in this league, then you must be doing something right.”

Bryant has been the uncharacteristic joyful host all season and further praised Butler.

“I think it’s just a testament of hard work,” Bryant said of Butler’s ascendance. “When he first came into the league and we came to Chicago and I was there early, he was there just as early and working on his game. It’s just a testament to hard work. He has developed every single year. He’s added a pull-up jump shot left, right. He pulls left shoulder, right shoulder. It’s just nothing but hard work. It pays off.”

The Bulls work paid off with a needed easy win to start this seven-game, 12-day jaunt mostly across the Western Conference. The Lakers trailed by double digits the last 38 minutes and the Bulls continued to lay it on with some impressive ball action.

Gasol threw ahead for a Gibson dunk late in the first half as Rose and Butler took outlet passes more often to expedite the flow. Rose had a half full of cross over and stop and start and show and go drives that baffled Lakers’ defenders. Rose and Butler combined for a spectacular fast break Butler closed with a dunk on an underhand pass from Rose and Rose did a little Magic Johnson with a look away pass on a three-on-two break. Late in the fourth quarter, the Bulls closed it out with Rose passing behind his back to a streaking Moore, who finished with a reverse layup on the fast break.

Yes, these Bulls.

“The plays I made I felt they were necessary,” said Rose. “I was just caught up in the moment.”

Asked about a little showing off in L.A., Rose added: “It’s the history of their team, the big games you saw in this building as a kid, the history of this franchise. But we’re going to take any win we can get.”

Who knows where this one will lead.