LOS ANGELES — This is maddening, isn’t it?
The “elite version” of the Lakers showed up on Thursday night against the Chicago Bulls. After a back-and-forth first period, the Lakers started to run away at the end of the first half. And then the Bulls ate some dust as the Lakers got back to .500, 141-132.
The two teams traded buckets in the first quarter the entire time. It was a bit unusual to see DeMar DeRozan make two three-pointers in a game, let alone in a quarter. The lead never got higher than three points for either team (18 lead changes?!) and the Bulls led the Lake Show, 32-31, after 12 minutes.
The Bulls had a huge advantage in second chance points (we’ll talk about this later in the column) but the energy of Jarred Vanderbilt turned it all around for L.A. He was wrecking the Bulls offense, especially late. While the Bulls cut a double-digit deficit down to two earlier in the second, the Lakers then bore down and made it frantic. Chicago missed their last 7 field goal attempts in the half while Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell made threes, LeBron James bullied his way inside, and Vanderbilt’s timing (on both ends, yes) gave the Lakers a 12-0 boost to end the half. The Lakers were up, 73-57, at the half.
Anthony Davis didn’t have a very hot first half and the team got him involved in the third. The Lakers were runnin’ and gunnin’ and they got the lead up to 23. Also, D’Angelo Russell was playing HORSE by himself. He was audacious in his three-point attempts, going 5 for 6 from behind the arc in the third. The Lakers led after three, 112-93. In the fourth, the Bulls did cut it down to single digits in the closing minutes but the Lakers were able to keep Chicago at bay as they scored a season-high in points.
It’s really funny. Head coach Darvin Ham was asked about why they haven’t used last year’s starting line-up (LeBron, Davis, Reaves, D’Lo, and Vando) as starters for this year. He explained that it was just the way it shook out, especially with Vanderbilt’s injuries. Well, this performance by Vando might give him a second thought. And I think Taurean Prince is fine off the bench. But I’m not the head coach here.
But his energy was contagious. And the Lakers seem to respond better when he’s out there causing chaos. We’ll see what the Lakers do in future games but I can also see the argument for him coming off the bench (along with Rui Hachimura, who provided some scoring punch off the bench himself).
It was also a little weird to see the Lakers outscore the Bulls from behind the arc. I had been worried about how they let teams shoot many threes but this time around, it was the Lakers being aggressive and accurate from three. In fact, they were super aggressive; they made 20 three-pointers while the Bulls only had 12. It’s kind of incredible, really.
The flaws in the Lakers’ game was the Bulls getting 18 second chance points compared to L.A.’s four. But the Lakers also shot the lights out so that might be a bit excusable. The Lakers also seem to stand around in the latter half of the fourth quarter; they can’t do that for an extended period of time. Otherwise, teams will pounce on them like that. Of course, you’re not going to win many games if you let the other team score 132 but I guess it’s okay if you score 141 and make .609 of your shots.
The Lakers had amazing scoring balance; they had 7 players in double figures (four had 20 or more). D’Angelo Russell made pretty much everything on his way to 29 points (8 threes). 20-time NBA All-Star LeBron James (that’s a lot of all-star games and, yes, it is the most in NBA history) had 25 points and 12 assists. Anthony Davis had 22-12-6. Austin Reaves scored 20 while Jarred Vanderbilt put in 17. As for Chicago, DeMar DeRozan pumped in 32 points while the much-improved Coby White had 25. Nikola Vucevic came on late with 20.
The Lakers are back at .500 and the Grammy road trip starts this weekend! The Lakers go up north to the Bay as they take on the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night. We’re always looking for the turning point for these Lakers. Will it start in this trip?