Lakers rally to drop Bulls
The Los Angeles Lakers are having trouble lately hanging onto big leads. They had no problem erasing one, however.
Kobe Bryant scored 28 points, Pau Gasol added 23 and the Lakers rallied for a 117-109 victory Saturday over the Chicago Bulls in the first of a season-high, seven-game trip.
The Lakers trailed by 16 in the second quarter and 14 at the half, but came roaring back in the third, pulling within one. They tied it early in the fourth, then took the lead with a 14-0 run that made it 106-93 on a night when Bryant wasn't quite his usual dominant self.
Despite the high point total, he shot just 10-for-25. Even so, the man who once said he wouldn't mind playing in Chicago got serenaded with "MVP! MVP!" chants.
Bryant acknowledged that was strange, but added: "It's fun, and it's greatly appreciated."
Turning the tables on the opposition was fun, too.
Los Angeles let big leads whittle down in the previous four games, but rallied this time thanks to a balanced effort that included key contributions from the bench to back the starters.
Gasol grabbed 10 rebounds. Trevor Ariza scored 18 points, Lamar Odom added 16 and Jordan Farmar had eight of his 13 in the decisive run for the Lakers, who have won five of six.
"We played with a little more intensity, a little more energy," Farmar said. "We were a step faster to the ball. We were helping each other out defensively and just moving the ball offensively."
After beating New Orleans and defending champion Boston, along with Oklahoma City, Chicago simply let this one slip away, committing 23 turnovers.
John Salmons scored 30 and Derrick Rose 25 for the Bulls, who had tied a season high with three straight wins, but their luck ended against the Western Conference leaders. So did their seven-game home win streak.
"We were turning the ball over and when you do that in this league, anyone will beat you," said Rose, who had four.
Trailing 62-48 at halftime, the Lakers went on a 12-0 run to cut it to three after Salmons started the third quarter with a free throw for Chicago. They got as close as one midway through the period and finally tied it at 89 on back-to-back 3-pointers by Sasha Vujacic and Odom less than two minutes into the fourth.
The Lakers took their first lead since the early stages on a three-point play by Luke Walton that made it 92-91. After Ben Gordon made two free throws, the Lakers answered with 14 straight to put away Chicago - and their backups led the charge.
Farmar hit two 3s and capped the run with dunk that made it 106-93 with 4:22 left, while the Bulls also committed three straight turnovers at one point during that stretch.
"It's a long trip and we're going to need our second unit to play the way they're capable of on nights when it's kind of a seesaw battle like that," Bryant said. "Our depth is one of our greatest features."
Their second unit, Gordon added, "is not an average second unit. They got the job done when Kobe was over there resting."
It was a difficult loss for the Bulls, who seemed poised to knock off another contender.
Salmons scored 18 points in the first half, Rose had 14, and both came up with eye-popping baskets in the final minute as the Bulls stalled a mini-spurt by the Lakers.
For Rose, it was a double-pump layup on the break with 28 seconds left to make it 59-46. Salmons' moment came after Trevor Ariza put back a 3 by Bryant that hit the side of the backboard with 3.8 seconds left, when he buried one from just beyond the arc as the buzzer sounded.
Two big shots. Two big performances.
But the Lakers pulled this one out.
"In the second half, we came out and played harder," Gasol said. "Our second unit really gave us a lift."
Considering how well he's been playing, Salmons may be pushing the injured Luol Deng out of the starting lineup. Salmons was averaging 19.4 points entering Saturday's game since the Bulls acquired him from Sacramento. Deng, meanwhile, has been sidelined the past three weeks with what he has said is a "very small, not even a hairline" fracture in his right leg. "We have to wait and see when Luol comes back how healthy he is," coach Vinny Del Negro said when asked if Deng would start. "He's still got some discomfort there. It's going to take a little time. My focus is to go with the guys who are healthy right now." ... Only one of the Lakers' opponents on this trip - Atlanta - had a winning record through Friday.