7:30 PM ET, December 19, 2006
United Center, Chicago, IL
CHICAGO (AP) -- The latest victory by the surging Bulls was different from their recent wins.
The Chicago spent the previous three weeks picking on teams with losing records, most from the Eastern Conference, but they took out one of the best in the West on Tuesday, staring Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in a 94-89 victory.
"It's a good feeling to get a win against a team like that," Chicago's Ben Gordon said after the Bulls' 12th win in 13 games.
"That was big tonight," added rookie Thabo Sefolosha, who helped contain Bryant. "We really needed that one. Tonight, we really showed that we have a great team."
Luol Deng scored 23 points and tied a season-high with 12 rebounds for the Bulls.
Gordon hit two free throws to close out the win with 10.9 seconds left, after Smush Parker cut the Bulls' lead to three with a foul shot and a dunk in the final 40 seconds. Deng hit 9-of-16 shots, and Gordon finished with 22 points as Chicago won its fifth straight.
Bryant was a non-factor after scoring a combined 98 in the previous two games. He was content to defer and finished with 19 points on 6-of-19 shooting before fouling out for the first time since Dec. 1, 2005, in the final minute.
"The defense had a lot to do with it," Bryant said. "They made me work for positions. They fronted me in the post, and they did a great job."
"They just kept plugging away and beat us in a game that was very lethargic," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
Down by as much as 11 in the third quarter, the Bulls took a 70-69 lead with just over a minute left when Deng crossed the lane for a three-point play. And Chris Duhon fed Michael Sweetney for a dunk and layup to start the fourth, making it 74-70.
The lead was 82-74 after Sweetney, who scored eight of his 11 points in the quarter, converted three-point play and Sefolosha drove the baseline for a reverse layup that drew a loud reaction from the fans. They perked up again when Bryant was called for two fouls in a 20-second span with the Bulls leading 85-78 with less than five minutes left.
Sefolosha (five points) shrugged off the layup, saying it was "just a move in the flow of the game." On defense, he kept his arms waving and gave Bryant little room late in the game.
"We just felt like giving Duhon a break for a couple of minutes," coach Scott Skiles said. "Then, Thabo ended up taking him until he fouled out. Kobe is one of the toughest covers there is, and I thought we did a decent job on him. We just had trouble on the rest of the guys."
After playing 18 of their first 24 games at the Staples Center, the Lakers started a six-game, two-week trip short-handed. Forward Lamar Odom, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds in a victory over Chicago on Nov. 21, missed his fourth straight game with a sprained ligament in his right knee and is not expected to return until next month.
Bryant, the NBA's fourth-leading scorer, seemed happy to set up his teammates after scoring 53 in a double-overtime win over Houston on Friday and 45 in an overtime loss to Washington on Sunday.
He was 3-of-10 with eight points in the first half, but the Lakers led 48-42.
"Last game, I couldn't miss from the 3-point line, and tonight, I couldn't throw the ball in the ocean," said Bryant, who was 0-for-5 from long range.
The Bulls were without forward P.J. Brown, who missed his fourth game with a strained right foot. The veteran is averaging career-lows in points (5.3), rebounds (4.2) and minutes (16.5), and has made it clear he's not happy in a reduced role. ... Jackson still gets that strange feeling when he returns to Chicago, where he coached the Bulls to six championships in the 1990s. "It feels like it's just a breath away," he said. "We had some great championship moments." ... The Lakers visit Minnesota, New Jersey, Miami, Orlando and Charlotte before returning home.
Team Stat Comparison
|FGM-FGA||36-76 (.474)||39-78 (.500)|
|3PM-3PA||3-19 (.158)||3-9 (.333)|
|FTM-FTA||14-22 (.636)||13-19 (.684)|
|Fast Break Points||10||8|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||19 (1/0)||26 (0/0)|