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Bulls hold Kobe Bryant to 19 points, but fall to Lakers 90-81

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) shoots as he is defended by Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah forward Luol

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)

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Updated: March 11, 2013 6:10PM



LOS ANGELES — Joakim Noah wished the Bulls had fouled Dwight Howard more Sunday. But even when they did foul the Lakers center, they struggled to take full advantage.

With the Bulls trailing by four points early in the third quarter at the Staples Center, Noah fouled Howard on a drive, and Howard missed both free throws. But after the second miss, the ball was tipped back to Howard. Steve Nash took advantage by nailing a three-pointer for a seven-point lead.

It was that kind of day for the Bulls in a 90-81 loss, their fifth loss in eight games. It illustrated the way things are going for a team losing momentum when it should be picking up steam in anticipation of a playoff run, whether Derrick Rose plays or not.

‘‘No excuses,’’ Bulls guard Nate Robinson said. ‘‘We just missed some easy shots we usually make. It happens.’’

The Bulls have no margin for error. Every little mistake is a big one. Every missed opportunity is costly. Nazr Mohammed cleanly blocked Earl Clark’s dunk attempt later in the third quarter, but Clark regained possession — one of the Lakers’ season-best 19 offensive rebounds — and scored inside. Luol Deng leaped to cleanly grab the rebound of a Robinson miss, but the Lakers tipped the ball out of his hands before Deng could come down with it. The ball went right Howard.

The Bulls (35-28) are getting their shots and missing them, getting their rebounds and losing them and defending shots but not getting stops. They can’t seem to finish anything.

‘‘We’ve just got to keep fighting,’’ said Bulls center Joakim Noah, who had 18 points and 17 rebounds but didn’t even earn a draw statistically against Howard, who dominated with 16 points and 21 rebounds, including seven offensive rebounds. ‘‘Sometimes I think we get a little too frustrated. We’ve got to understand that there’s still a long way to go. Guys are going to come back healthy, and we’ll make our run.’’

As much as the Bulls like to think they have enough to win with, they are missing their injured regulars more and more each game. On Sunday, they held Kobe Bryant — who was coming off back-to-back 40-point games — to 19 points. They had five players in double figures, with a yeoman’s effort by Noah, 19 points from Robinson and a double-double by Carlos Boozer (12 points, 10 rebounds). But they still lacked a leader, somebody to take charge in a winnable game on the road.

With the offense struggling — the Bulls shot 37 percent (33-for-89) — they have to be that much better on defense.

‘‘No question,’’ Noah said. ‘‘We can still do better defensively. We can definitely do better offensively. It’s just hard sometimes. We’re not used to seeing Lu play the 4. Guys have to play out of position right now.’’

Noah caught himself. ‘‘No excuses,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s tough.’’

The Bulls have to fight their way out of this funk.

‘‘A lot of it is mental with us,’’ Noah said. ‘‘We get frustrated very easily right now. If we stick together through these hard times, I think it’s going to make our team that much better.’’



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