Bulls Try To Take Down Defending Champs

(WSCR)The Bulls have won three games in a row, despite their last win being one of their worst performances of the season. With their full roster, the Bulls are more versatile and can win games in a variety of ways. They can pound the ball into the post and let Carlos Boozer lead the way. Or they can let Derrick Rose take over and dominate the game offensively. It’s that versatility that is making the Bulls a legitimate title contender.

No matter how much the Chicago Bulls may have improved in the last few years, they haven’t found a way to beat the Los Angeles Lakers.

Winners of three straight overall, the Bulls seek to end a seven-game losing streak against the two-time defending champion Lakers on Friday night.

Chicago (12-8) has shown steady progress since finishing 33-49 in 2007-08, then drafting Rose with the first overall pick. After playoff appearances in Rose’s first two seasons, the Bulls may be poised for more as the early leaders in a lackluster Central Division.

Rose, averaging a team-high and career-high 25.1 points, scored 30 when these teams met Nov. 23 in Los Angeles, but the Bulls lost 98-91. It was their seventh straight defeat in this series and the fifth in a row since Rose joined the team.

The Lakers have also won three straight in Chicago and nine of the last 10 in the series overall.

“They put a lot of pressure on us,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said after last month’s meeting. “The Lakers are a heck of a defensive team. You’ve got to make quick decisions against them.”

Rose’s ability to hit the outside jumper as well as attack the basket may help in breaking down the Lakers’ defense. The point guard capitalized on a mismatch late in Chicago’s 88-83 victory Wednesday in Cleveland, driving the lane and converting on a three-point play to put the Bulls ahead for good.

“I have confidence in my game where if they are backing up on me I will shoot,” said Rose, who finished with 29 points. “If they are on me, I came into this league because of driving (to the basket).”

Rose helped Chicago overcome a poor game from Carlos Boozer, who sat the entire four quarter and totaled four points. Boozer’s inside presence may be needed against a Lakers team boasting seven-footer Pau Gasol and possibly Andrew Bynum, who Los Angeles hopes can return at some point during its lengthy road trip.

The Lakers (16-6) didn’t need to leave Los Angeles to begin their first of two seven-game trips this season, winning as the visiting team against the Staples Center co-tenant Clippers 87-86 on Wednesday on Derek Fisher’s layup as time expired.

“It was a tough shot,” Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe said. “That’s what he’s there for. He has been doing it for years for them.”

Kobe Bryant scored 24 points and Shannon Brown added 16 off the bench for the Lakers, who have won three straight after a four-game losing streak.

Brown scored 21 points in last month’s win over the Bulls, helping the Los Angeles reserves outscore Chicago’s 39-10. Brown, a suburban Chicago native who played sparingly in six games for the Bulls in 2007-08, has flourished as a role player since joining the Lakers.

“I always want to play well against the place I came from,” Brown said in November. “I grew up watching the Bulls. I was a Bulls fan.”

Not counting a 42-point effort Dec. 15, 2009, Bryant has averaged only 21.0 points in the Lakers’ other six victories over the Bulls during the current streak.

Copyright 2010 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press contributed to this article. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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