In what I still can’t be certain wasn’t a sleep deprivation-induced hallucination — it’s been a long week — a lineup prominently featuring Jared Dudley, Talen Horton-Tucker and Montrezl Harrell helped the Lakers bounce back from their recent loss to the Spurs by beating the Bulls, 117-115, on Friday night.
Vogel dusted off Dudley for his first non-garbage-time burn of the season in the third quarter, and like pasta thrown at a wall out of desperation to see if a dish is done, the move stuck. Dudley may move like a blogger during a pickup game, but his infectious energy and defensive intensity while diving for loose balls, rotating like a madman and greasing the wheels of the offense injected the Lakers with the dose of electricity they needed on a night they too often looked lackadaisical. His box score production — 0 points, 1 rebound, a plus-minus of +5 — won’t pop, but he deserves credit for stepping up when the Lakers needed him. They’ll need that from everyone at times this year, and this night it was just Dudz’s turn.
Things didn’t look so good earlier in the night. With Anthony Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missing the game with injuries, the Lakers defense that Davis blasted on Thursday looked even more disorganized than ever while allow Bulls guard Zach LaVine to drop 17 points in the first quarter.
The Lakers’ stayed in the game though, mostly due to the offensive brilliance of LeBron James (28 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists) and Dennis Schröder (16 points and 7 assists), and led by one at halftime as a result. In the second half they got a boost from Wesley Matthews, who exploded for 14 points in the second half as James looked for him again and again.
But the Bulls wouldn’t go away. Dudley’s boost helped, mostly because it woke the rest of the team up. Harrell finally powered all the way online, blasting the Bulls with waves of trash talk and isolation buckets fo finish with 17 points and 14 rebounds. He and the rest of the team were aided by some clutch shot-making and foul drawing from Schröder, buckets that gave the Lakers just enough breathing room to survive some bricks by James down the stretch as the Lakers nearly fell apart and let the Bulls steal this one. Thankfully for them, LaVine (38 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds) finally cooled off, missing a jumper that would have put Chicago up one with just seconds remaining. An inbound to the lightning-quick Schröder and some free throws later, the Lakers survived.
The purple and gold will get Saturday off before returning to the court on Sunday for the first of two road games against the Houston Rockets. And while they won’t get any style points for it, this win will bump the team’s record up to 7-3, the best in the Western Conference.
It wasn’t pretty, but a victory is a victory as this team continues to ramp up slowly and tries to fatten up its record against a soft schedule by any means necessary.