Pau Gasol has led the Chicago Bulls to a victory over his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers, once this season.
Looking to do it again in his first trip back to Los Angeles, Gasol tries to help the Bulls build on an impressive victory that opened a six-game trip and extend the Lakers’ longest skid in 21 seasons Thursday night.
Gasol won two NBA titles in six-plus seasons with Los Angeles before signing with Chicago (30-17) in July. He admitted it felt weird while recording team highs of 23 points and 13 rebounds in a 113-93 win over the Lakers (12-34) on Christmas Day.
"Obviously, it’s an emotional game because you find yourself on the opposite side of the team that you played for for so many years,” said Gasol, who is averaging 18.3 points, a team-leading 11.9 rebounds and was named to his fifth All-Star team this season.
He didn’t face Kobe Bryant in that contest and won’t Thursday, with the Lakers star expected to need nine months to recover from his third straight season-ending injury. He had rotator cuff surgery Wednesday.
”He’s like a brother to me,” Gasol said.
Though Gasol isn’t nearly as close with current teammate Derrick Rose, he appears to be growing more comfortable alongside the Bulls star. That was apparent Tuesday, when Gasol had 18 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists and four blocks, and Rose scored 30 and overcame a career-high 11 turnovers by hitting a jumper with 7 seconds remaining in overtime of a 113-111 victory over Golden State. That snapped the Warriors’ 19-game home winning streak.
Joakim Noah added 18 points, 15 rebounds and six assists for Chicago, which held a 61-48 rebounding advantage and limited the NBA’s top shooting team to 42.5 percent to win for the third time in four games.
Though Gasol’s return to Los Angeles provides an intriguing storyline, he’s focused on helping Chicago avoid a letdown.
"I think we have a resilient group, a group that is willing to fight and compete," Gasol, who’s averaged 15.3 rebounds in six games, told the Bulls’ official website. "We just can’t pick and choose when. That’s something we have to be aware of."
Rose has averaged 24.1 points in his last eight games to bring his season average to 18.6, and he scored 20 on Dec. 25 – his first meeting with the Lakers since 2011 after missing the previous four due to injury. He’s averaged 24.0 points in eight career games in the series.
Los Angeles forward Carlos Boozer, who spent the previous four seasons with Chicago, had 14 points in the first matchup.
Boozer, who’s been coming off the bench since early December, has averaged 8.7 points and 6.0 boards during the Lakers’ nine-game losing streak – their longest since dropping their final 10 of the 1993-94 season.
Averaging 88.9 points in their last nine, Los Angeles blew a 19-point lead in Tuesday’s 98-92 defeat to Washington. Wayne Ellington scored a career-high 28 points and rookie Jordan Clarkson added 18, but the Lakers lost their fifth straight at home.
Seeing more backcourt minutes along with Clarkson, Ellington has averaged 16.0 points and 54.2 percent shooting in the last four games after averaging 7.3 and shooting 44.3 percent in his first 33.
”I made up my mind I’m going to come out aggressive,” Ellington said. ”We are a team that needs to be hungry.”
It’s uncertain if Jimmy Butler, the Bulls’ leader with 20.1 points per game, will play after sitting out Tuesday with an illness.
Chicago has won three straight and six of seven against Los Angeles.