The Lakers rode the backs of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to another much-needed victory. Chicago wouldn't go away, but Los Angeles was in control almost throughout, combating the Bulls' defensive tactics with a sensational defensive performance of its own.
Both Nate Robinson and Joakim Noah willed themselves to keep the Bulls within striking distance throughout the fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough with Kobe and company still having their sights set on a playoff berth.
Nate Robinson, PG Bulls: B
Nate Robinson isn't Kirk Hinrich, and he sure as hell isn't Derrick Rose, but he's been getting the job done for the Bulls all season.
Robinson finished with 19 points, eight assists and four steals on 8-of-19 shooting from the floor. He was off from three-point range (2-of-8), but he pushed the pace when given the opportunity against a slower Lakers team.
At times, he lacked defensive resistance, and Steve Nash could often be found traipsing his way into the paint. That said, he did a nice job of forcing some turnovers while limiting his own.
Some of Chicago's finest appeared a bit lethargic, especially out the gate, but Robinson continued to serve as a never-ending supply of energy. If only the Bulls hadn't wasted his efforts.
Steve Nash, PG Lakers: A
Show me a person who says it's not surreal watching Nash play the part of a scorer, and I'll show you one big liar.
We've always known Nash could score, but he's never been asked to. Not like this.
Los Angeles' point man dropped 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field. He did pitch in four assists, but we're used to watching his assist totals rival that of his points.
For the Lakers to make a deep postseason run, though, Nash will need to score. That means playing off Kobe Bryant and penetrating with an intent to shoot, not pass, and putting on performances such as this one.
Marco Belinelli, SG Bulls: C
Consider this one a gift, Marco.
Entering this game, I was wondering if Belinelli shouldn't be the permanent starter for Chicago. He's an adequate defender, sound passer and can often shoot the lights out of an arena.
Here, he just shot the life out of my optimism.
Belinelli scored 11 points on just 5-of-15 shooting and was unable to get in any sort of rhythm. Most, if not all, of his shots lacked rotation, and he wasn't attacking the rim as much as he needs to.
He dished out four assists and played some decent perimeter defense (two steals, nice laterals, etc.), but that just wasn't enough to offset a poor shooting performance. Especially when the Bulls needed him to score more than anything else.
Kobe Bryant, SG Lakers: A-
Even when Kobe Bryant's seemingly off, he's on.
The Black Mamba finished with 19 points, seven rebounds, nine assists and two steals on 7-of-16 shooting from the floor.
Admittedly, said point total seems a bit underwhelming for Kobe, who has been on a scoring tear as of late, but his passes were incisive and just magnificent. I'd hazard he would have neared 15 assists had Metta World Peace and company converted on more of his drive-and-kicks.
As has become the norm, Bryant flirted with a triple-double and continued to embody the fountain of youth he has come to represent.
I would have liked to have seen Bryant shoot a touch more through the first three quarters, but hey, now I'm grasping at straws.
This was another nice performance by Kobe.
Luol Deng, SF, Bulls: C
I'm more inclined to attribute Luol Deng's unfortunate performance to some solid perimeter defense by the Lakers more than anything else.
Deng just couldn't get anything going, scoring just 11 points on 5-of-16 shooting. He was forced into an array of contested jumpers and couldn't get to the rim with as much ease as we're used to.
Chicago's All-Star played some nice defense and grabbed eight boards, but I thought he could have done a better job of boxing out and providing some help defense when it was needed.
We can hardly put this loss solely on Deng, but the Bulls aren't going to win many games or make much noise if he fails to produce offensively.
Earl Clark, SF, Lakers: B
Hat-tip to Mike D'Antoni for continuing to show faith in Earl Clark.
Though this wasn't the prettiest of performances, Clark clawed his way to 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting. He did a phenomenal job sticking with plays, especially on offense.
Clark was also a part of Deng's tumultuous night from the field. He defended well off switches and did a nice job on Carlos Boozer when guarding him as well. He also set some nice screens on the offensive end.
But while there were signs of life, Clark's shooting touch was really nowhere to be found. He was just 1-of-5 from beyond the arc, many of which were wide-open looks created by Kobe.
There's still plenty to like about Clark's game, but if he can get those outside shots to fall, he'll be a driving force behind any postseason success Los Angeles ultimately has.
Carlos Boozer, PF, Bulls: C-
Sometimes, I just marvel at Carlos Boozer's shot selection, but not in a good way.
Boozer hit on just 4-of-16 from the field en route to tallying 12 points. Plenty of his shots were forced and too many of them he had no business shooting.
Despite being subject to the wrath of Dwight Howard down low, he managed to grab 10 rebounds. So yeah, there's that.
But not much else.
Metta World Peace, PF, Lakers: A-
I wish I could pretend that Metta World Peace didn't have the first quarter that he did, but I can't. Even so, he more than salvaged his performance.
He scored 12 points on 6-of-16 shooting from the field, but he was beyond impressive on defense. He grabbed seven rebounds, forced one steal and blocked four (yes, four) shots.
Watching him go 0-for-6 from deep hurt our eyes, but his defense on the perimeter and in the post—often against the bigger Boozer—was instrumental in this victory.
Knowing that defense is Los Angeles' Achilles heel, the Lakers desperately need to hope he sustains such an energy level heading into the postseason.
Hoping he's a bit more efficient from beyond the arc is a given as well.
Joakim Noah, C, Bulls: A
You see, not everyone on the Bulls was horrible.
Joakim Noah had another explosive performance, going for 18 points, 17 rebounds, three assists, one steal and three blocks. Unlike the rest of his team, he simply wouldn't yield.
It didn't help that Noah was unable to contain Dwight Howard, but he did a nice job of limiting his shot opportunities (for the most part).
Unfortunately, Chicago wasted Noah's efforts more than Nate Robinson's.
Even in defeat, though, it's difficult not to look at Noah and smile. He was, and has been, that good.
Dwight Howard, C, Lakers: A
Howard was simply sensational against the Bulls, putting up 16 points on 8-of-14 shooting. He also grabbed a game-high 21 rebounds (seven of which came on offense), forced one steal and matched Metta World Peace's four blocks.
As I've said previously, though, more important than the results was how Howard achieved them. He ran the floor with ease and played (wait for it) above the rim.
This wasn't the clearly impeded Howard we have been watching for the better part of the year, but a limber, explosive Howard. He was vocal on the defensive end and did a nice job rolling off screens on offense.
In other words, he was everything the Lakers initially thought they traded for.
Three turnovers and a 0-of-5 display at the foul line prevented him from getting that elusive "A+," but still, he was amazing.
Jimmy Butler, SF, Bulls: C
The going wasn't easy for Jimmy Butler, but he did manage to make some nice plays.
Butler scored just five points on 2-of-8 shooting from the field, but he hoarded five rebounds in just 24 minutes of action.
I was also impressed with some of his defensive sets, which is really nothing new. He moves east to west so efficiently that he's difficult to pass.
Butler seemed a bit over his head in this one, however. He couldn't get anything going offensively. He had a tough time moving without the ball, and those paths to the rim weren't as readily available as they normally are.
Looking back, though, he was no worse than the Bulls as a whole—which isn't saying much at all.
Antawn Jamison, PF, Lakers: C-
Did anyone else expect more from Antawn Jamison in this one?
He only played 18 minutes, but managed to jack up seven shots even still. He connected on just three of them, however, finishing with six points.
Aside from being one of the many who rained on Kobe Bryant's drive-and-kick parade, Jamison didn't appear too lucid on the defensive end. Not that he's an especially good defender, but he struggled to fight over screens and was leaving far too much space between him and his man.
Recently, Jamison has been reliable (offensively) for the Lakers and considered a key part of their success.
He was anything but dependable here, leaving Los Angeles to wonder how he will fare against stout defensive attacks come playoff time.
As per usual, Tom Thibodeau didn't use his bench much (outside of Jimmy Butler), and he didn't get much.
Nazr Mohammed had a minimal impact in his nine minutes of action, and Marquis Teague saw just three minutes of burn.
The way Thibs has restricted his rotation, you'd think every game is a playoff contest.
Steve. Blake. And no, I'm not kidding.
Blake dished out five assists in just 16 minutes of action, essentially carving up a usually impenetrable defensive attack.
He committed two turnovers and was held scoreless, but he's been providing some instant playmaking off the bench. And as you can tell, that's really all the Lakers need.
Jodie Meeks had a nice game as well. He shot 4-of-10 from the field for 10 points, grabbed four rebounds, forced one steal and even blocked a shot.
His defense overall was sound throughout (hence the 31 minutes of action) and he did a stellar job of corralling some long rebounds.
As has become the prevailing theme here, he robbed Kobe Bryant of some assists after failing to capitalize on some well-placed, Mamba-infused passes. But Bryant is nothing if not forgiving.
Just ask Dwight Howard.