Lakers-Bulls Preview

The Associated Press

Frustrations appear to be taking their toll on the Los Angeles Lakers, who can't seem to right the ship.

The Chicago Bulls, in contrast, have mostly held their own, but coach Tom Thibodeau was anything but pleased with their latest effort.

The slumping Lakers try to avoid their longest road losing streak in eight seasons Monday night against a Bulls team that could be without leading scorer Luol Deng again.

Los Angeles (17-23) has lost eight of 10 overall after kicking off a three-game trek Sunday with a 108-103 defeat to Toronto. The Lakers, who fell behind by as many as 19 points in the fourth quarter, are on the verge of their first six-game losing streak in opponents' arenas since a nine-game skid in 2004-05.

"I didn't feel like we were ready to play," point guard Steve Nash said. "We cut too many corners at too many different times in the game and had too big a hole to climb out of.

"We're just not finding any consistent level out of our group."

Pau Gasol had a season-high 25 points in his return to the starting lineup and Earl Clark scored 14 to go along with a career-best 14 rebounds, but Los Angeles allowed the Raptors to shoot 54.8 percent. The Lakers played the entire second half without Dwight Howard after he received his second technical foul - and the accompanying ejection - late in the second quarter.

"We've got a lot of issues," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Offensively the ball sticks and we don't take very good shots. Defensively, ups and downs, we forget guys."

Thibodeau also took issue with his team's performance Saturday in an 85-82 overtime loss to Memphis. Chicago (23-16), playing without Deng due to a right hamstring injury, had won seven of its previous nine games but was outscored 21-6 in transition while shooting 36.5 percent.

After trailing by as many as 17 points in the third quarter, the Bulls outscored the Grizzlies 29-16 in the fourth but couldn't keep up in the extra period.

"We just have to keep battling and battling and battling. In the end, whatever is necessary, that is what you have to do to win," Thibodeau told the Bulls' official website. "You have to get in the fight. It's physical and you can't get thrown around.

"We have to do better, we are capable of doing better."

He may feel that way about Joakim Noah, who played a season-low 27 minutes Saturday and was benched for the fourth quarter and OT.

"That's just a coaching decision," said Thibodeau, who refused to elaborate on the situation.

On a more positive note, second-year swingman Jimmy Butler scored 12 of his career-high 18 points over the final 12 minutes of regulation. Butler figures to receive a second consecutive start if Deng, averaging a team-high 17.4 points, can't go Monday.

Butler could be asked to help contain Kobe Bryant, who is coming off two particularly inefficient games. He has shot 18 of 57 (31.6 percent) from the floor in losses to Miami and Toronto, committing six turnovers in each contest.

"I've just got to rest my legs," said Bryant, averaging an NBA-leading 29.6 points. "My legs are a little tired. My shots are just short."

The Lakers had taken seven straight from the Bulls before losing the last two matchups by a combined five points. Injured superstar Derrick Rose, though, totaled 51 points in those narrow wins while Deng added 35.

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