With Kobe Bryant out resting for the second consecutive game, the Los Angeles Lakers fell to the Chicago Bulls 113-93 at the United Center on Christmas Day.
Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol led a balanced Bulls' attack that slowly choked out the Lakers over 48 minutes. All three Bulls finished with over 20 points on the night to help Chicago to 20-9 on the season. The Lakers, in turn, dropped to 9-20 after the loss.
For Lakers' fans, the image of Gasol wearing green colored shoes and a red Bulls jersey seemed out of place. Watching him pass from the post, attack the rim and bother opponents with his length, though, fit like a championship ring. He looked like the player that helped the Lakers to back-to-back titles.
If the Bulls continue on their current trajectory, Gasol may be back in the NBA Finals in June. The gracious Spaniard finished with 23 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and two blocks. He made nine of his 14 shots on the night. Every time the ball left Gasol's hands and splashed through the net, Lakers hearts sunk a bit further.
It felt a bit like accidentally running into an ex-girlfriend that left on good terms on her way to getting engaged with a new man. One couldn't help but be happy for the Spaniard, but seeing just how happy he was up close still hurt the stomach.
For the Lakers, Carlos Boozer continued his strong play off the bench with 14 rebounds and five assists. The Bulls had waived the forward over the summer, so this was the first time Boozer had faced his former team, too.
Wesley Johnson finished with 19 points and nine rebounds to lead the Lakers, and Ed Davis chipped in 13 points and 14 rebounds. Despite the positive rebounding numbers from Johnson and Davis, the Lakers clearly lost this game on the boards. The Bulls won the rebounding battle 57 to 39, and Chicago was especially successful in grabbing offensive rebounds.
"They're the best team we've played so far in the East," Lakers coach Byron Scott said after the game. "They're good."
Without Bryant, the Lakers lost by 20 points to one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. That wasn't a surprise, but seeing just how good Gasol looked kind of was.