Not long after the ball was tipped, it became readily apparent that the Los Angeles Lakers (8-7) were not going to beat the Chicago Bulls (10-4) on Monday at Staples Center. Not without LeBron James, and not with the game the Bulls' three best players — all with notable Los Angeles roots — brought from the jump.
The Bulls led 33-25 after the first quarter and 57-48 at halftime. By the time Anthony Davis was tossed with 2:20 remaining in the third quarter, the Lakers were trailing by 20 points. Chicago rolled to a 121-103 win.
It's easy for Lakers fans to feel deflated by the team's second blowout loss at home in the past four days. Clearly, they were nowhere near good enough to hang with a talented Bulls squad. (Alex Caruso, BTW, was scoreless in his much-anticipated return to Staples, though, in typical fashion, he played an outstanding floor game and finished with a +28.)
The loss culminated an injury-ravaged, roller-coaster opening month for the Lakers, in which they won eight of 15 games, despite 12 coming at home against a relatively light schedule.
Carmelo on the Lakers 8-7 record (with 12 of 15 games at home):
"I don’t look at the 8-7." He said he's not trying to "evaluate our season within the first 20 games. After the first 20 games we can start."
He says he breaks the season down into 4 parts.
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) November 16, 2021
This wasn't amongst the Lakers' most alarming Ls of the season. They didn't surrender a comfortable lead to a lottery team, as they did against the Oklahoma City Thunder (twice!) and the Minnesota Timberwolves. They didn't lose their composure, as they did against the Phoenix Suns. They didn't lose another key player to injury.
In fact, here are five reasons not to overreact to the Lakers' latest ugly box score — including a couple of silver linings.
Why Lakers fans shouldn't panic about ugly loss to Bulls
1) Talen Horton-Tucker's career night
The most encouraging development for the Lakers in their back-to-back vs. the San Antonio Spurs and Bulls is, undoubtedly, the return and stellar play of Talen Horton-Tucker — the team's fourth-highest-paid player and arguably their fourth-best/most important.
THT shined in his season debut on Sunday, scoring 17 points, putting up a +14, taking charges, stifling Dejounte Murray, attacking the rim, and even going left(!). He earned plaudits from Davis and Frank Vogel afterward.
Against the Bulls, the Chicago native dropped a career-high 28 points, punctuated by two massive above-the-rim finishes in the second half. He hit 4-of-9 from 33 — perhaps the most promising sign of all.
on a positive note, THT's thumb looks OK https://t.co/11u0h71XTH
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) November 16, 2021
“I was just trying to go out there and play hard,” THT said. “We were down, so just trying to keep fighting was the main thing on my mind. Just trying to give my teammates a boost.”
More abstractly, his youthful energy on both ends has been palpable and offers a breath of fresh air. He's playing confidently and energetically. The question is: will Vogel keep him in the starting lineup?
2) The Bulls' best players were unguardable
In the best basketball league in the world, sometimes you just have to chalk things up to sheer talent. Frankly, I'm not sure the 2004 Detroit Pistons could have kept the Bulls in check on this night.
Zach LaVine, the former UCLA star, rained down 26 points on 10-of-22 shooting, to go along with five boards and five dimes.
Lonzo Ball, the former UCLA star, Chino Hills alum, and Lakers point guard, lit up his old stomping grounds for 27 points (10-of-13 FG, 7-of-10 3PT), seven rebounds, and eight assists.
LONZO IS ON CHINO HILLS MODE 🔥
He’s feeling it in Staples Center‼️ pic.twitter.com/iZk4mws3al
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 16, 2021
DeMar DeRozan, the former USC star and Compton native, led the way with 38 points on 15-0f-23 shooting. He was deep in his bag.
DEROZAN OUT OF THE POST.
HE'S GOT 30.
— NBA (@NBA) November 16, 2021
“I think he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder,” Lonzo said about DeRozan. “I think a lot of people counted him out, saying he’s on the back end of his career, but this is probably one of the best years he’s had in the NBA. We’re just happy to have him on the team.”
All three were cooking from the get-go and showed off their full arsenal of shots. It was equally impressive and thrilling to watch. Lots of “oohs” and “aahs” emanated from the Staples crowd.
They easily outplayed the game's other native Angeleno and ex-Bruin, Russell Westbrook, who followed up a strong and aggressive 19-point first half with a disastrous third quarter.
3) The 3-point discrepancy was fluky
The Lakers entered the game sixth in the NBA in 3-point percentage. In general, their summer strategy seems to have paid off thus far. The Bulls began Monday dead last in the NBA in 3-pointers made per game.
In this particular affair, Los Angeles missed 32 of 38 triples, while Chicago drilled 15-of-34. The Lakers' defense was not awful by any means, and they generated plenty of solid looks on offense.
“You can’t beat a team when you go 6-of-32 from 3,” Carmelo Anthony said. “Not in today’s game.”
4) AD picked up his game before being tossed
Anthony Davis and the Lakers deeply struggled to handle the Bulls' aggressive double-teaming in the first half.
“We haven’t seen that type of double-team this year,” Vogel said. “Credit Chicago for being very aggressive. They were trying to take him out of the game with post frontals and immediate double-teams. With a new group, we didn’t adjust to it very well. We missed open 3s on the backside. We turned the ball over too much, we had too many bad possessions early on trying to get AD involved. A part of a new season with a new group is all these guys are new to playing with Anthony, they’re trying to figure that out. Understanding where we want to go to when we see a defense like that.”
However, they made strides in the second half. AD found a rhythm and toughed out 13 points in 10 minutes before his questionable ejection. The Lakers likely wouldn't have won the game — the lead had ballooned to 20 when he was tossed, largely due to the Bulls' steaming shotmaking — but the adjustment was nice to see.
5) Help is on the way, in the form of LeBron James!
Vogel said postgame that LeBron remains “day-to-day.”
By various accounts, though, The King's return is imminent. There's no better argument for not overreacting to the Lakers' recent shortcomings than LeBron in street clothes.
Los Angeles will now hit the road for a five-game East Coast swing, beginning with Wednesday's visit to face the defending champion, Milwaukee Bucks. Woj reported that there is “growing optimism” James could play on Friday vs. the Boston Celtics.
“We welcome the road trip,” Vogel said. “It’ll be good for us. We’ve been struggling, a little bit up and down … a change of environment should be good for us.”
“It creates more togetherness, cohesiveness and finding ways to lean on each other. You know when you go on the road you go against a home crowd, so you have no choice but to lean on each other. If you don’t, you don’t have a chance to win.”