Bulls at Lakers: 3 Takeaways to Settling the Score

Setback by a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers the night before, the Chicago Bulls looked to regain footing Sunday night in a west coast matchup with the Lakers at the Staples Center.

The choice to start Rajon Rondo, who sat out of the team’s first two Circus Trip stops, came down to a game-time decision. Dwyane Wade would take the night off for some rest citing fatigue.

Knowing they would be shorthanded, it appears the Bulls took to the court with interest in getting off to a good start.Jimmy Butler slid over to shooting guard to allow Nikola Mirotic to start at small forward.

Would that make for a good decision?

I think not, but more on that later.

The Bulls made it a point to get inside the paint and they dominated in the early minutes. Together, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler led the Bulls in scoring to close the first quarter.

Getting to the charity stripe is surely becoming Butler’s prerogative. He was able to get three of his opponents—DeAngelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and Nick Young—to rack up two personal fouls a piece to start the first quarter. Butler earned several trips to the free-throw line to satisfy this aim.

Luck didn’t always favor the Bulls in this contest, as it would become known.

Turnovers almost killed the Bulls during the first quarter. Fortunately for them, the Lakers couldn’t capitalize on every opportunity sent their way. The decision making of the young Los Angeles team proved to be their Achilles heel.

Still, the Lakers kept the game close from end to end.

Butler and Bulls set out to reclaim their lead. The only thing is Lou Williams ran into a half-court shot to tie up the game at 30 points to close out the first quarter.

As the second quarter got underway, the Bulls started reeling as the Lakers’ bench hit the court. Namely, Nikola Mirotic began to pose a liability to the Bulls at the defensive end.

A second unit led by the likes of Williams performed as expected, with the exception of Jordan Clarkson who couldn’t get a shot to fall through three quarters. The Lakers bench racked up 30 points with just over seven minutes remaining in the second quarter. Notably, Lou Williams scored 14 minutes to give his team a lead as big as 10 points.

Bulls tried their best to make up for mental lapses down the stretch. That allowed Chicago to open up a one-point lead to close the first half as the scoreboard read 62-61.

Mirotic’s performance in the first half moved head coach Fred Hoiberg to start Isaiah Canaan at the top of the third quarter.

Would that make a difference?

I think so.

Nov 17, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) reacts to hitting a three-point shot at the first-half buzzer against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 17, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) reacts to hitting a three-point shot at the first-half buzzer against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Highlights

Bulls looked good in early game-time action Sunday night, but so did the Lakers. From circus shots to buzzer beaters, the matchup proved to be a tight contest decided in the closing minutes of regulation. Jimmy Butler did some heavy lifting after Saturday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. As for the Bulls’ Circus Trip, they improved to 3-1 following a 118-110 victory over the Lakers.

A Bulls bench fueled, in part, by the play of Denzel Valentine kept the Lakers at bay with just over six minutes left in the second quarter.

Robin Lopez as a point-center? Give me more.

Sunday’s game was a homecoming game for former Chicago Bull Luol Deng. He logged six points, four rebounds and an assist in 22 minutes of action. When Deng met Butler prior to tipoff, the brotherly love was apparent and the torch was passed.

What catapulted the Bulls to closeout the Lakers?

Nov 20, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) dribbles the ball past past Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram (14) in the first quarter of the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 20, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) dribbles the ball past past Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram (14) in the first quarter of the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmy Butler

The key to the Bulls win was Butler.

Butler logged his fourth career game with 40-plus points on Sunday when they Bulls met the Lakers.

It appears that he set out to be aggressive from the start in the absence of his teammate Dwyane Wade. Butler continued to find ways to get to the free-throw line in high volumes. To satisfy this aim, he tallied 12 out of 14.

Butler also looked to get his teammates involved when Nick Young and the Lakers started to lock in on him. Butler’s attempts to get them going worked in the Bulls favor. By the time the Lakers started sending help to throw off Butler, his teammates would find their strokes as well.

For Canaan, it was a different stroke that propelled him, not Mirotic, to start the third quarter. The Bulls found a more productive option in Canaan to stretch the floor. Butler would defer to him at times. Canaan shot 50 percent from deep in a game where he logged 17 points.

Whereas the Bulls had Butler to lean on for big shots and playmaking ability in critical moments, the Lakers did not have that luxury down the stretch. That made for all the difference at the Staples Center on Sunday.

Apart from Butler, who else made an impact on the game?

Oct 31, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (44) steals the ball during the second quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 31, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (44) steals the ball during the second quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Nikola Mirotic

Hoiberg called on Mirotic to start the game Sunday.

Surprised?

I think not.

Still, it was a first for the third-year wingman to this point in the regular season.

Long before this year, Hoiberg showed an affinity to Mirotic’s ability to space the floor.

Why?

When Mirotic is successful, he is surely deemed as one of the most likely Bulls to create matchup problems for opponents.

As for his weaknesses, Mirotic showed that he continues to struggle when opponents look to post him up. Luckily for the Bulls, team defense tightened up down the stretch and they got stops when needed.

Mirotic didn’t let adversity take him out of the game for the entirety of the contest. He helped Chicago to outwork the Lakers on the glass by grabbing 15 rebounds and pairing them with 15 points.

Next to Mirotic, another Chicago Bull shined on Sunday night.

Who?

Nov 7, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Denzel Valentine (45) celebrates after making a shot during the second half of the game against the Orlando Magic at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Denzel Valentine

Valentine set out to impress in his second game since being cleared for play.

Like Lakers’ rookie Brandon Ingram, Valentine received quality minutes in Sunday night’s contest at the Staples Center.

Valentine racked up eight points and two rebounds in 17 minutes, compared to Ingram who tallied seven points, four rebounds and three assists in 20 minutes.

Although his value dropped on draft night, Valentine is working to prove his doubters wrong. The rookie is making the case that he’s capable of stretching the floor within the flow of the Bulls’ offense. It appears that Valentine is adjusting well to the level competition exhibited in game-time action. Most notably, he settled into the lineup nicely in the absence of Wade.

What’s Next for Both Teams?

The Bulls will meet the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, at which time they’ll look to cap off the second to last game of their Circus Trip. The Lakers look to bounce back from Sunday night’s loss when they play the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.

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