The Lakers are defending NBA champions for a reason. They’re an elite defensive team which uses size, strength and smarts to throttle opponents.
So the fact the Bulls lost 101-90 on the second night of a back-to-back set while playing without Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. isn’t that surprising.
What does raise an eyebrow after such a sustained period of sublime offensive play is how meekly the Bulls succumbed in the first half, trailing 63-33 at the break. One night after registering 33 assists, the Bulls had just six at halftime and finished with more turnovers than helpers.
“I was really disappointed in the first half,” coach Billy Donovan said.
Shot-making always makes everything look better and can cover up flaws that might otherwise go unnoticed. Even if there wasn't a formidable defensive team at the other end, a night the Bulls missed their first 13 attempts from 3-point range, posted a season low for points and shot 39.3 percent will inevitably expose some things.
But Donovan has talked about the need to sustain cutting and moving and powering through physicality all season. Those traits weren’t on display for much of this night.
“That was the problem. That was the challenge. You have to move them around,” Donovan said. “They’re too long, too physical and too smart. The more stationary and stagnant you get against them, the more it plays into their hands. And that requires a lot of work.
“When the game started, we didn’t have the kind of pop I was hoping we’d have. I get it’s the second night of a back-to-back. But this is the NBA. That’s what you do.”
The game plan was to play downhill, get into the paint and spray out to shooters. Instead, the Bulls penetrated and committed offensive fouls. It’s almost as if the Lakers knew what to expect.
It sounds like LeBron James did.
“Defensively, when he was off ball, he was calling out our plays, telling guys where to be, what was coming next,” Patrick Williams said. “You could tell that he watches a lot of film.”
Added Zach LaVine: “His IQ is off the charts. He knows all your plays. They did a really good job of talking and loading.”
When the Bulls watch this one, they’ll see the chasm between where they and the Lakers are in the NBA landscape. The Bulls played this same team competitively just over two weeks ago in Los Angeles, albeit on a night they didn’t have Anthony Davis. He scored 37 points and made his typical difference defensively.
“They swarmed to the ball,” LaVine said. “I tried to get into the teeth of the defense and create some shot opportunities that didn't work, but still looking to drive and kick in the first half. I think their pressure messed with us a little bit and their physicality. But we also didn't make the same amount of shots.”
LaVine posted his first points-rebounds double-double of the season and led the Bulls with 21 points. But his 9-for-23 night marked only the second time in eight games he shot below 50 percent. The Bulls also had their franchise-record-trying streak of seven straight games with 115 points or more snapped.
It’s what playing against an elite defense can do.
“I don’t think we played to our identity in that first half,” Donovan said. “We penetrated and charged too much. We didn’t find open people when they were there. They were coming in and really protecting the paint. We had some turnovers, gave up some offensive rebounds. The first half, it wasn’t who we’ve been.
“The second half, it was good to see our guys compete the way they did. We got back to a little bit more to who we want to be as a team. That was encouraging to see.”
Now, it’s time to respond on Monday versus the Celtics.