For the Lakers to even compete with a playoff or championship contender, their game has to be near perfect. They not only have to throw the first punch, they have to jab continuously, fighting through fatigue and retaliation, until the final bell of round 12.

Tonight, they did just that.

For the first three and a half quarters, it appeared as if they’d placed themselves in the same situation they’d done season long – have a great start, give it away in the end. Despite losing the lead in the fourth quarter, they didn’t just surrender and hand the victory over to their old friend, Pau Gasol and Chicago. The Lakers, with no Kobe Bryant and no Nick Young forced overtime…and then another overtime, until they’d run the Bulls ragged on their way to a  123-118 victory, snapping a purple and gold nine game losing streak.


 

What Went Right

Jordan Hill – J-Hill was one of a few gut punches to Chicago tonight. He scored a season-high 26 points on 11-of-22 from the field, including a long jumper that forced the second overtime. Add to that his 12 rebounds, three assists, two blocks, and steal and you’ve got the most valuable player in this win.

Wayne Ellington – Give a man a chance to produce, and he’ll pay you in production. That’s Ellington in a nutshell. Without the regular starting AND backup two-guard, he’s the Lakers’ “it,” and boy can it play. After a 28-point game in the Wizards’ loss a couple of nights ago, Ellington picked up right where he left off, pouring in 23 points on 9-of-19 from the field, five rebounds, three assists, and a steal.

Jordan Clarkson – To think Clarkson was riding the Pine Express just a few weeks ago. Now he’s starting at point guard, and taking advantage of every moment. Yes, he chipped in a solid 18 points, four assists, four rebounds and two steals, but it wasn’t his numbers that impressed; it was his poise from beginning to end. No matter the fact he had to go up against former MVP, Derrick Rose. So what if he was foolish enough to think he could get a shot off with Gasol ready to block his shot to end the third quarter? Who cares if he was one of the youngest, most inexperienced players on the floor? None of that has spooked Clarkson and that has been an intriguing quality to watch in this Laker rookie. Behind by five points in the first overtime, he sank two free throws to bring his team within three. A chance to up the lead in the second overtime, he calmly scored on a jumper. Another chance to put his team ahead by seven points with just over 30 seconds left in double OT? Two free throws, no problem.

Determination – The Lakers shot better from the field than the Bulls, out-rebounded them, stayed even on the assists and kept the turnovers to a minimum, but showed more than just a winning performance tonight. In their surprise win against the Golden State Warriors, they were clearly the better team that night. They played the Warriors out of Staples Center. But tonight’s game against the Chicago Bulls took a lot more moxie. They didn’t win by piling on a 25-point lead. Tonight, they actually had to fight for this victory, and despite having seemingly so little to fight for in such a disappointing season, they fought anyway and it paid off.


 

What Went Wrong
Pau Gasol In A Bulls’ Uniform – Gasol returned to Staples Center and was greeted by a standing ovation of fans wearing t-shirts distributed at tonight’s game which say, simply, “Thanks, Pau.” Despite a slow start, perhaps the result of the distraction that coming back to your old team can provide, Gasol finished with 20 points on 8-14 from the field, 10 rebounds, six assists, and four blocks.

Choose Your Battles – Losing a double-digit lead is never a good thing, especially against a good team. It’s a rare win in a disappointing season, so let’s not dwell on Ryan Kelly’s 1-3 in 22 minutes, Jeremy Lin’s love of holding the ball for almost an entire possession that ends in a turnover or Wesley Johnson’s 7 points on 3-9 in 37 minutes of playing time.

On the radio, Lakers’ sideline report, Mike Trudell, was asked in the fourth quarter, whether he thought the Lakers could pull out a win tonight. He answered that they could, but that it wouldn’t be easy because the Chicago Bulls, as a true contending team, could a play another level above what they normally play in order to win. He said he wasn’t sure if the Lakers had another level, and to be fair, he’s absolutely right. This team just won its 13th victory in its 47th try. High levels of play, in general, are few and far between. However, just because the Lakers aren’t competing for a championship, doesn’t mean they’re averse to challenges and tonight was the perfect example of that.

Box Score

 


Lakers/Bulls Highlights (via Basketball Nation on YouTube):

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