LOS ANGELES -- The most ironic part about the Bulls' 98-91 loss to the Lakers on Tuesday night is that they got beat, in part, by a player they could have had.
Shannon Brown, a Chicago area native, rattled off 21 points and led the Lakers' bench to an astounding 39-10 advantage over their Bulls counterparts. For Brown, the opportunity to knock off the Bulls was even more special considering the team didn't really make much of a push for him in the summer.
"I actually played for the team for a second, but you always want to play well against the place where you come from," said Brown, who is averaging a career-best 11.1 points a game. "I grew up watching the Bulls. I grew up a Bulls fan, but it's great. I know everybody was watching on WGN Channel 9."
When asked directly if he had any contact with the Bulls this summer, Brown waited a few moments before answering. The tilted smile on his face said more than what actually came out of his mouth.
"I don't remember," he said.
The more he spoke the more you got the sense that he would have relished the chance to play in front of friends and family again. The more the Bulls watched him drain shots, they might have wished he would have ended up back home.
"I feel like Shannon Brown has really elevated his game," Joakim Noah said. "He's playing at a really, really high level for them. You've got to give credit where credit is due when guys are hitting shots the way they are. Those were some contested shots."
But Brown's evolution against the Bulls only underscored the same re-occurring problem the team has had all year: They don't have a consistent bench. Derrick Rose (30 points, eight assists) Joakim Noah (19 points, 13 rebounds) and to a lesser extent Taj Gibson (16 points, 12 rebounds) are going to bring it every night. Until the Bulls get some more help off the bench they aren't going to be able to beat the elite teams, especially the Lakers. After playing well over the past week, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver combined to go just 3 for 15 from the field.
"We just missed a bunch of shots and didn't play as well as we should have," Korver said.
The real problem for the Bulls is that when Luol Deng gets in foul trouble and disappears offensively, (two points in the last three quarters, none in the second half) and Keith Bogans continues to shoot poorly from the three point arc (1 for 5) the Bulls don't really have anywhere else to turn.
When you compare that to how well Brown played alongside Matt Barnes and Steve Blake, you have a recipe for disaster as far as Tom Thibodeau is concerned. The Bulls knew the Lakers bench was good; it was just that they looked even better comparatively.
"Everybody in the league knows their bench is like a transition team," Rose said. "Where they get out in the open and try to shoot a lot of [threes]. And they were hitting tonight."
The Bulls aren't always going to be able to rely on Rose to save the day. If they don't find some more consistency from the bench soon, the chances of them being able to knock a team like the Lakers in a seven game series are gone.
Maybe they should have called Brown.