Gasol is expected to make his season debut Thursday night as the Lakers continue their five-game homestand against the Chicago Bulls, who opened their lengthy circus road trip with an impressive win.
Los Angeles (8-3) hasn’t been at full strength as it sets out to defend its NBA title, and at times it’s been clear that the absence of Gasol - who averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game last season - has made a difference.
The Lakers have been held to 83.3 points per game in their three losses and especially struggled in the second half of their recent two-game rut, averaging 30.0 points in the final 24 minutes.
Bryant made sure Los Angeles could cruise for the final 12 minutes Tuesday. He scored 35 of his 40 in the first three quarters to help the Lakers open a 25-point lead en route to a 106-93 win over Detroit.
Bryant’s 100th 40-point game leaves him behind only Wilt Chamberlain (271) and Michael Jordan (173).
“It’s a true honor,” said Bryant, who’s been held under 20 in four of his last six games against Chicago. “A lot of work went into it, and when I look back on that, I (can’t believe) I had 100 of those games.”
Bryant’s 17-of-29 shooting performance helped Los Angeles avoid its first three-game slide since right before Gasol’s arrival in February 2008.
“Some of that is just talent, and some of it is resiliency,” coach Phil Jackson said of the Lakers’ consistency. “They were embarrassed with the losses, and they want to feel good about themselves, so they worked hard to change that.”
While all signs point to Gasol’s season debut coming in this nationally televised contest against the Bulls (6-4), the big man hasn’t been hurting for TV exposure. Gasol, out with a strained hamstring, appeared earlier this week in an episode of “CSI: Miami” that was filmed during the preseason.
Chicago is in Hollywood as part of an annual road trip prompted by the circus coming to the United Center, and historically those excursions have not gone well. The Bulls were 9-56 on the trip since Jordan’s retirement heading into Tuesday’s game against Sacramento, though they were 3-4 last season.
“We didn’t shoot the ball nearly as well in the second half, but at least we had enough of a cushion to sustain that a little bit,” coach Vinny Del Negro told the Bulls’ official Web site. “It’s a good start to a long trip.”
Chicago topped 100 points for the first time, and Salmons’ 23 were especially encouraging. The former King, who averaged 18.3 points on 47.3 percent shooting after being traded to the Bulls in February, was averaging 12.6 points on 31.7 percent shooting heading into Tuesday.
Perhaps a matchup with the Lakers will allow Salmons to sustain his production. He averaged 25.3 points on 56.1 shooting in three games against Los Angeles last season, scoring 30 in his lone appearance with the Bulls - a 117-109 home loss March 21.
Chicago began its circus trip last season with a 116-109 loss to the Lakers on Nov. 18 as Gasol scored 34.