Bulls

Bulls top Lakers in Kobe Bryant's final game in Chicago

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Bulls top Lakers in Kobe Bryant's final game in Chicago

The Bulls realized early in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers there was nothing ordinary about the game they were attempting to finish off.

A 15-3 run to end the third quarter had pushed the Bulls' lead 16 by the end of the third quarter, and an E'Twaun Moore basket extended the lead to 19, their biggest of the night.

It's about the time that the sellout crowd of 23,143, littered with No. 24 "Bryant" jerseys, began chanting the name of the man all in attendance had come to see.

The chants of "Ko-be! Ko-be!" persisted until late in the period, when the Lakers had roared back to pull within a single possession of the Bulls, and Bryant re-entered to a rousing applause from the United Center crowd.

Bryant scored just two more points after re-entering, and the Bulls were able to stave off the Lakers' comeback bid by scoring 12 of the game's final 17 points in a 126-115 victory over the Lakers. The night honoring and celebrating Bryant's historic 20-year career was as unique a situation as the Bulls had faced this season, but Fred Hoiberg understood its importance within the game.

"Look, he deserves everything he's getting out there," he said after the game. "I'm sure it's happening in every gym that he's playing in. It's very well-deserved for Kobe, everything he's getting out there. He deserves this farewell tour, whatever you want to call it, send-off, that he's got going."

Celebration aside, the Bulls were able to move past the unique circumstances and perform at a level they needed to against an inferior opponent. The 126 points were a regulation season-high, and they topped a season-high by shooting nearly 56 percent from the field and 68 percent from beyond the arc in their second consecutive victory for the first time since Jan. 5 and 7.

E'Twaun Moore matched a career-high with 24 points, Derrick Rose continued his stellar play with 24 points and six assists and six players scored 17 or more points, including Bobby Portis' 17 points and seven rebounds off the bench.

Bryant was the main attraction from the moment he entered the United Center. He spoke with members of the media for 15 minutes prior to the game, fielding questions ranging from his favorite memories playing against Michael Jordan, to nearly signing with the Bulls in 2004 and being traded there in 2007, to his message of patience to Bulls fans enduring the team’s recent struggles.

[MORE: Chicago's goodbye to Kobe Bryant]

Bryant also received a special two-minute video from the Bulls during pregame introductions and was introduced at the end of the video by former teammate Pau Gasol, who spent parts of seven seasons and won two titles with Bryant.

The five-time champion, who has endured his struggles in his final NBA season but played better of late, showed flashes of his old self in his 15th appearance at the United Center. Bryant connected on an early 3-pointer and scored on four jumpers in a five-possession span that tied the game early in the third quarter, his final jumper bringing the sellout United Center crowd of 23,143 to their feet.

But Bryant’s theatrics were short-lived for the 11-46 Lakers.

The Bulls’ sharpshooting peaked in a dominant third quarter in which they shot 62 percent, including 5-for-7 from beyond the arc. Moore made all three of his attempts, Doug McDermott continued his hot shooting with another triple and Gasol added one from the top of the key, shooting a glance to Bryant following Bryant’s fourth bucket of the sequence. The Bulls tallied 30 more assists on Sunday, two days after logging 32 in a win over the Raptors.

"I'm encouraged with what we're doing offensively right now. The ball is moving so much better than it was earlier in the season," Hoiberg said. We're making more simple plays."

[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]

They ended the quarter on a 15-3 run and scored the first three points of the fourth quarter, seemingly putting the game out of reach. The Lakers responded in the final quarter, thanks to stellar performances from youngsters Julius Randle (22 points, 12 rebounds) and D'Angelo Russell (15 points, six assists), while Jordan Clarkson scored 12 of his 20 points in the final stanza. During the Lakers' 18-4 run fans began clamoring for head coach Byron Scott to substitute Bryant, who had played 25 minutes to that point, back into the game. 

Bryant re-entered the game for the final time after Moore’s triple put the Bulls up seven with three minutes remaining. Bryant added two free throws to finish with 22 points on 8-for-20 shooting before jumpers from Gasol and Rose iced the game.

Bryant exited with 45 seconds remaining to one final standing ovation from the crowd. After the final horn sounded he found Gasol and embraced his longtime friend for the final time on an NBA court.

"We shared a few moments now but knowing this one was the last one on an NBA floor, it’s special to share that moment," Gasol said after the game. "To have the bond that we have, the respect and admiration and friendship. So it’s awesome and I love it. I feel honored that I have this type of relationship, where I’ve earned his respect throughout the years and that we won a couple championships together, which is pretty amazing."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Of Bulls and Blackhawks, which team will finish with higher draft pick?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Of Bulls and Blackhawks, which team will finish with higher draft pick?

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun-Times), Hub Arkush (ProFootball Weekly) and Jason Goch (SB Nation) join Kap on the panel.

The guys debate which team will finish with a higher draft pick when the season ends: Bulls or Blackhawks?

Plus, hear their reaction to the MLB’s new pace-of-play rule change.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

There are 600,000 reasons you won't hear Gar, Pax or Hoiberg discuss losing

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AP

There are 600,000 reasons you won't hear Gar, Pax or Hoiberg discuss losing

The Bulls made headlines on Tuesday when VP John Paxson announced that David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne would be entering the rotation, thus continuing the youth movement in Chicago.

On the surface the moves make sense. The 24-year-old Nwaba, the 25-year-old Felicio and the 23-year-old Cameron Payne will be replacing 28-year-old Justin Holiday, 29-year-old Robin Lopez and 25-year-old Jerian Grant. The Bulls want to see what they have in these younger players who haven't played much; they already know what they have in Lopez and Holiday, and Grant (like the other two) is under contract through next year.

OK, got that? Here's why they're making the move: they're sitting 8th in the NBA Lottery standings and really want to move into the top-5 to give themselves a chance at what should be a loaded front-end of the draft class. It's pretty obvious, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either named Gar Forman, John Paxson or Fred Hoiberg.

And here's why: On Wednesday Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined a whopping $600,000 by the NBA for comments he made on a podcast regarding tanking. The Mavericks are currently 18-40, the third worst record in the NBA. This comes a season after they finished 33-49, netting them the No. 9 pick that turned into talented point guard Dennis Smith Jr.

So when Cuban was asked about the best interests of his Dallas team, which touts young talent but clearly isn't headed for the postseason in 2018, he said this on the House Call with Dr. J Podcast:

"I'm probably not supposed to say this, but, like, I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night, and here we are, you know, we weren't competing for the playoffs. I was like, 'Look, losing is our best option. [Commissioner] Adam [Silver] would hate hearing that, but I at least sat down and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we're not going to tank again. This was, like, a year-and-a-half tanking, and that was too brutal for me. But being transparent, I think that's the key to being kind of a players owner and having stability."

Cuban isn't wrong, and the Mavericks sure as hell aren't the only team tanking. But to come right now and admit that losing is the team's best option wasn't, as Cuban predicted, going to sit well with the league office.

Commissioner Adam Silver sent out a memo with the fine that said Cuban's comments "which concerned his perspective on the team's competitive success this season" were "detrimental to the NBA."

So while the Bulls are going about their business in trying to lose as many games down the stretch as possible, don't expect anyone to admit it's the reason behind their personnel moves. There are 600,000 reasons why.