The Chicago Bulls still haven’t recovered from Phil Jackson’s departure and the breakup of their dynasty.
Bryant and the new-look Lakers will try to climb back above .500 as they host the winless Bulls at Staples Center.
Jackson coached the Bulls to six NBA titles in eight years before he and Michael Jordan left Chicago, ending the celebrated reign of the team of the 90s. The Bulls have not reached the postseason in six seasons since, finishing near the bottom of the NBA standings each and every year.
They again appear a long shot to contend for a postseason berth after opening this campaign with seven straight losses.
Though they led at the half and remained competitive into the third quarter, the Bulls managed just 11 points over the final 12 minutes Friday night in Denver, suffering a 99-81 loss to the Nuggets.
“This was pretty much the way all our games have been,” Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. “We had some good moments, but we self-destructed a couple of times.”
The Bulls are just two losses away from matching the 1967-68 team for the worst start in team history. With the Lakers up next, and a game Monday night in Phoenix, it’s a real possibility they will at least match the record.
And the skid could get even longer as Chicago finishes out the week with games at Utah and Cleveland.
“We could play better, but I think sometimes things can change quickly in a game,” said Andres Nocioni, who led the Bulls with 22 points Friday. “We have to change our minds and our mentality and play hard, not soft.”
After leaving Chicago, Jackson eventually wound up in Los Angeles, leading the Lakers to three NBA titles and four finals appearances in five seasons. But Jackson, Bryant and O’Neal failed to co-exist during a tumultuous 2003-04 campaign, and Bryant was left as the lone man standing after Jackson went into retirement and O’Neal was dealt to Miami following last season’s finals loss to Detroit.
No longer sharing top billing with O’Neal, Bryant is leading the league in scoring, but the Lakers are struggling to find any consistency with their overhauled roster. After winning two in a row for the second time this month, the Lakers suffered a 107-102 loss in Phoenix on Friday.
Bryant, as usual, led the way for Los Angeles with 29 points, scoring 26 in the second half after misfiring on all 10 of his shots over the first 24 minutes. But he missed a pair of critical 3-pointers in the late stages as the Suns went on a 9-3 run in the final minute.
Bryant grabbed 11 rebounds and handed out 10 assists to complete an impressive triple-double, but he finished 10-of-33 from the field.
“We have some catching up to do and we’re looking forward to doing it,” Bryant said. “We’re growing. We competed hard, but this is a game we should have won.”
STANDINGS (through Nov. 19): Bulls - 5th place, 6 GB, Central Division. Lakers - 3rd place (tied), 2 1/2 GB, Pacific Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Bulls - Luol Deng, 15.3 ppg; Chandler, 8.1 rpg; Hinrich, 7.7 apg. Lakers - Bryant, 27.8 ppg and 5.8 apg; Odom, 10.3 rpg.
2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Lakers, 2-0.
LAST MEETING: March 13; Lakers, 88-81. At Chicago, Bryant scored 12 of his 35 points in the final five minutes, helping Los Angeles complete the season sweep. Curry scored 16 points for Chicago, which was trying to beat the Lakers at home for a third straight season.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Bulls - 0-4 on the road; Lakers - 3-1 at home.