Bulls’ Luol Deng cools off blistering Kobe Bryant
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org March 10, 2013 10:44PM
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) shoots as he is defended by Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah and forward Luol Deng (9), of Sudan, in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles Sunday, March 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
LOS ANGELES — No matter how red-hot he was entering the game, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant knew Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was going to make it tough for him Sunday.
Bryant entered the game averaging 39.5 points and 6.8 assists in his previous eight games, including 42 points and 12 assists Wednesday against the New Orleans Hornets and 41 points and 12 assists Friday against the Toronto Raptors.
Forward Luol Deng helped the Bulls keep Bryant in check. Bryant finished with 19 points on 7-for-16 shooting and nine assists. He was 0-for-6 with Deng guarding him in the first half and scored 11 of his points after the Lakers had built an 11-point lead in the third quarter.
‘‘He’s known me since I was 15 years old,’’ Bryant said of Thibodeau. ‘‘He’s not going to let me beat him by scoring; he’s just not. He doesn’t want that to happen, so I have to find my guys. It was tough going for them early in the game in terms of knocking down shots, but I have to stay with them, and they made them down the stretch.’’
While the Bulls contained Bryant, they struggled to stop Lakers center Dwight Howard, who had 16 points and 21 rebounds. Howard had eight points and 11 rebounds in the first half, when the Lakers had a 29-18 rebounding advantage.
‘‘Howard set the tone in the first half,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘He just dominated with shot-blocking, rebounding, physicality. That set the tone, and they dominated us on the boards from the start.’’
Joakim Noah scored 18 points and grabbed 17 rebounds for the Bulls, but he couldn’t neutralize Howard.
‘‘He’s always a beast,’’ Noah said. ‘‘Tough to keep off the glass, especially when you’re trying to contain Kobe. I wish we would have fouled him more, but he’s a handful.’’
The Bulls shot 37 percent (33-for-89). Only Noah (7-for-12) and Nazr Mohammed (2-for-3) shot better than 50 percent. They seemed to miss a lot of open shots.
‘‘You’ve got to give [the Lakers] credit,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘They played good defense. They were into us.’’
It also might be that the Bulls are in a shooting slump. The Lakers are 17th in the NBA in field-goal defense. The Raptors shot 52 percent against them Friday. In fact, in winning eight of their last 10 games, the Lakers have held only one other team — the Hornets — below 45 percent shooting. The Hornets were shooting 53 percent Wednesday before a 4-for-23 fourth quarter.
Bits and pieces
Derrick Rose was greeted warmly by movie director Spike Lee after the game and chatted with free-agent guard Baron Davis, who suffered an even more devastating knee injury in the playoffs last season and might not play again.
◆ All 10 starters in the game scored in double figures, with Nate Robinson and Bryant leading their teams with 19 points.
◆ Robinson was 2-for-8 from three-point range and is 3-for-22 on three-pointers in his last four games.