With the likes of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash on the court, as well as more scoring-proficient teammates Carlos Boozer, Rip Hamilton and Joakim Noah leading scorer Luol Deng missed his second consecutive game with a strained right hamstring Kirk Hinrich might have been the least likely player one would have predicted to have a scoring explosion.But Monday night at the United Center, the veteran point guard showed that when called upon, hes still capable of being a force to be reckoned with, as his 22 points on 9-for-11 shooting, as well as second-year swingman Jimmy Butlers solid defense on Bryant, propelled the Bulls (24-16) to a 95-83 triumph over the reeling Lakers (17-24).The hosts scored the first six points of the contest, four of which were by Noah (13 rebounds), who obviously wasnt in danger of being benched again by Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau after sitting out the final 22:53 of the squads previous outing, Saturday nights overtime loss to Memphis.Noah, who also made his presence felt with his typically high activity level on both ends, received offensive assistance from veterans Hamilton (13 points) and Boozer (14 points) in the early going, though they were countered by the outside marksmanship of floor general Steve Nash, the aggressive play of former Bull Metta World Peace (12 points) and the contributions of fellow forward Earl Clark (12 points), who started in place of Pau Gasol (15 points, 12 rebounds), now relegated to a reserve role.Hinrich (eight assists, seven rebounds, 3-for-4 3-point shooting), usually the fifth scoring option out of the Bulls starters, didnt permit the Lakers to disregard him offensively, knocking down a pair of early triplesbefore picking up his second foul, continuing his trend of early foul troubleto help the home team build a slim cushion.Hamilton, who looked to drive to the basket more often than usual, continued to be a factor on offense, while Noah played with a lot of energya foregone conclusion, not only because of the aforementioned benching, but his matchup with Howard, as Thibodeau frequently used the departed Omer Asik to defend him in the pastand along with the support of their teammates, the Bulls held a 27-20 advantage at the conclusion of the opening period.Backup point guard Nate Robinson (11 points) took his turn at sparking the Bulls next, hitting a pair of three-pointers, in addition to a late first-quarter triplenot to mention an emphatic post-whistle blocked shot on Howard (eight points, nine rebounds), which energized the crowdto help the hosts, who also got a lift from an active Taj Gibson, acquire a double-digit lead.Veteran Nazr Mohammed was inserted into the contest specifically to defend Howard, leading to the two centers getting tangled up midway through the second period, with the result being a technical foul on the Chicago native.Bryant (16 points on 7-for-22 shooting) started to heat up for the visitors as halftime drew closer and along with the long and athletic Clark, helped narrow the gap, minimizing the Bulls loyalists previously frenzied state.But the hosts maintained their separation from their guests and at the intermission, the Bulls led, 47-40.After the break, the Bulls combination of defense and transition playa sequence in which a Noah block led to a textbook fast break, resulting in a Hinrich layupset the tone and helped the hosts again briefly possess a double-digit winning margin.The Lakers, buoyed by World Peaces hard-nosed style and the continued contributions of Clarkthrough the midway point of the third quarter, Bryant was mostly passive on offense and Howard was a non-factordidnt let things get out of hand, but with the veteran backcourt of Hamilton and Hinrich leading the charge, the Bulls appeared to be in control.The visitors fought back, however, slicing into the deficit, as Nash (18 points, six assists) and Bryant focused on playmaking and Gasol, gave them a boost off the bench to gradually make it a close-knit affair.Although the Lakers briefly seized their first lead of the evening on a Bryant transition layup with less than a minute to play in the period, it was fleeting, as two Butler (10 points, eight rebounds, four assists) free throws tied the score for the Bulls, but still, heading into the final stanza, the game was knotted up at 69 apiece.Butler, who played dogged defense on Bryant all night long, sparked the Bulls at the outset of the fourth quarter and while the game remained tight, working against the hosts was Noah picking up his fifth foul at the 7:26 mark of the period, though Howard was whistled for a fifth of his own with 6:41 remaining, putting both starting centers on the bench as the game entered its stretch run.Hinrichs scoring remained a theme for the Bulls, who bought themselves some breathing room, as the likes of Butler and Belinellithe latters clutch three-point shooting extended the lead to double digitsalso hit timely deep jumpers to keep the visitors at bay for the time being.Another Hinrich jumper, over the defensively-deficient Nash, with 1:56 left, seemed to be the Lakers death knell, as it was followed by a Boozer jumper to give the Bulls a 14-point lead, the biggest spread of the evening.Following a Gasol dunk, Boozer knocked down another free-throw line jumper with under a minute on the clock and it was all academic after that, with the Bulls claiming a victory over the leagues most talented, yet dysfunctional squad.
Here are Three Things to Watch when the Bulls take on the Phoenix Suns Sunday on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live.
1. Something's got to give
What's the opposite of an unstoppable force vs. an immovable object? That's what we'll be looking at when the Bulls have the ball in their hands. Chicago ranks dead last in offensive efficiency, while the Suns have the 2nd worst defensive efficiency in the NBA. That means the Bulls, after scoring a season-high 123 points against the Hornets, can build on that momentum against a Suns defense that allowed 90 points in the FIRST HALF to the Rockets on Thursday.
2. Kris Dunn for real?
Fresh off the best game of his young career - he scored 22 points in a win over the Hornets on Friday - Kris Dunn continues to look like the best point guard on the Bulls roster. He's going through a really solid stretch right now, averaging 13.2 points on 47 percent shooting, 4.2 assists and 2.6 steals over his last four games. With Eric Bledsoe out of Phoenix, Dunn could be in line for another big game going up against Mike James and Tyler Ulis, regardless of whether or not he starts over Jerian Grant.
3. Watch out for Devin Booker
We'll try to get an opponent in here once for every tune-in, and Devin Booker certainly fits the bill. Much like Dunn is doing, Booker is on quite a roll these days. Over his last four games Booker is averaging 30.5 points on 51 percent shooting, 4.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists. The Bulls will need to keep their eyes on Booker at all times, especially after allowing Kemba Walker to go off for 47 points on Friday.
On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson react to a breakout game from Kris Dunn against the Hornets Friday night. They’ll discuss his development and how it impacts rookie Lauri Markkanen. Plus just how long will both the Wolves and Bulls be judged on the Jimmy Butler trade? Is Dwight Howard a hall of famer? And a new era in Philly with Simmons and Embiid. That and more on this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast.