With the likes of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash on the court, as well as more scoring-proficient teammates Carlos Boozer, Rip Hamilton and Joakim Noah leading scorer Luol Deng missed his second consecutive game with a strained right hamstring Kirk Hinrich might have been the least likely player one would have predicted to have a scoring explosion.But Monday night at the United Center, the veteran point guard showed that when called upon, hes still capable of being a force to be reckoned with, as his 22 points on 9-for-11 shooting, as well as second-year swingman Jimmy Butlers solid defense on Bryant, propelled the Bulls (24-16) to a 95-83 triumph over the reeling Lakers (17-24).The hosts scored the first six points of the contest, four of which were by Noah (13 rebounds), who obviously wasnt in danger of being benched again by Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau after sitting out the final 22:53 of the squads previous outing, Saturday nights overtime loss to Memphis.Noah, who also made his presence felt with his typically high activity level on both ends, received offensive assistance from veterans Hamilton (13 points) and Boozer (14 points) in the early going, though they were countered by the outside marksmanship of floor general Steve Nash, the aggressive play of former Bull Metta World Peace (12 points) and the contributions of fellow forward Earl Clark (12 points), who started in place of Pau Gasol (15 points, 12 rebounds), now relegated to a reserve role.Hinrich (eight assists, seven rebounds, 3-for-4 3-point shooting), usually the fifth scoring option out of the Bulls starters, didnt permit the Lakers to disregard him offensively, knocking down a pair of early triplesbefore picking up his second foul, continuing his trend of early foul troubleto help the home team build a slim cushion.Hamilton, who looked to drive to the basket more often than usual, continued to be a factor on offense, while Noah played with a lot of energya foregone conclusion, not only because of the aforementioned benching, but his matchup with Howard, as Thibodeau frequently used the departed Omer Asik to defend him in the pastand along with the support of their teammates, the Bulls held a 27-20 advantage at the conclusion of the opening period.Backup point guard Nate Robinson (11 points) took his turn at sparking the Bulls next, hitting a pair of three-pointers, in addition to a late first-quarter triplenot to mention an emphatic post-whistle blocked shot on Howard (eight points, nine rebounds), which energized the crowdto help the hosts, who also got a lift from an active Taj Gibson, acquire a double-digit lead.Veteran Nazr Mohammed was inserted into the contest specifically to defend Howard, leading to the two centers getting tangled up midway through the second period, with the result being a technical foul on the Chicago native.Bryant (16 points on 7-for-22 shooting) started to heat up for the visitors as halftime drew closer and along with the long and athletic Clark, helped narrow the gap, minimizing the Bulls loyalists previously frenzied state.But the hosts maintained their separation from their guests and at the intermission, the Bulls led, 47-40.After the break, the Bulls combination of defense and transition playa sequence in which a Noah block led to a textbook fast break, resulting in a Hinrich layupset the tone and helped the hosts again briefly possess a double-digit winning margin.The Lakers, buoyed by World Peaces hard-nosed style and the continued contributions of Clarkthrough the midway point of the third quarter, Bryant was mostly passive on offense and Howard was a non-factordidnt let things get out of hand, but with the veteran backcourt of Hamilton and Hinrich leading the charge, the Bulls appeared to be in control.The visitors fought back, however, slicing into the deficit, as Nash (18 points, six assists) and Bryant focused on playmaking and Gasol, gave them a boost off the bench to gradually make it a close-knit affair.Although the Lakers briefly seized their first lead of the evening on a Bryant transition layup with less than a minute to play in the period, it was fleeting, as two Butler (10 points, eight rebounds, four assists) free throws tied the score for the Bulls, but still, heading into the final stanza, the game was knotted up at 69 apiece.Butler, who played dogged defense on Bryant all night long, sparked the Bulls at the outset of the fourth quarter and while the game remained tight, working against the hosts was Noah picking up his fifth foul at the 7:26 mark of the period, though Howard was whistled for a fifth of his own with 6:41 remaining, putting both starting centers on the bench as the game entered its stretch run.Hinrichs scoring remained a theme for the Bulls, who bought themselves some breathing room, as the likes of Butler and Belinellithe latters clutch three-point shooting extended the lead to double digitsalso hit timely deep jumpers to keep the visitors at bay for the time being.Another Hinrich jumper, over the defensively-deficient Nash, with 1:56 left, seemed to be the Lakers death knell, as it was followed by a Boozer jumper to give the Bulls a 14-point lead, the biggest spread of the evening.Following a Gasol dunk, Boozer knocked down another free-throw line jumper with under a minute on the clock and it was all academic after that, with the Bulls claiming a victory over the leagues most talented, yet dysfunctional squad.
For the opening three quarters in Atlanta, the Bulls were off.
So off, in fact, that Dwyane Wade tweeted an apology to Chicago fans after the game.
That performance was AWFUL!!! I apologize to all the Chicago fans and Wade fans.— DWade (@DwyaneWade) January 21, 2017
Thanks to a furious run by the Bulls' bench, the final score ended at a respectable 102-93. In reality, though, the Hawks dominated.
Wade and company trailed by 29 points at half and 30 at the end of three. The 35-year-old shooting guard finished with a minus-18 and just four points while All-Star starter Jimmy Butler posted a team-low minus-22.
Butler: "Starting with me and going down the line, we gotta be better as a whole. Otherwise we’ll keep getting our asses beat and it’s bad."— Vincent Goodwill (@vgoodwill) January 21, 2017
The Bulls will look to shake off their lopsided loss against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday.
The bus was warm before the game started, as the Bulls looked like they wanted no parts of the Atlanta Hawks.
It was evident from the jump that playing with a full and healthy squad for one of the few times this season wasn't enough to arouse their competitive juices, as they put together arguably their worst 48-minute showing in a 102-93 loss at Philips Arena, dropping them to 21-23 in a game they trailed by as many as 34 points.
The practices have apparently been the sterling jewel of effort and competitiveness for the Bulls but it hasn't carried over through the season as the inconsistency continues to be maddening — one that seems to go beyond the "growing pains" mantra that's been fed by all involved so far this year.
"It could be things but I don't want to share it with the media," a sunglasses-clad Dwyane Wade said outside the locker room, in a rare mood of not being elaborative following a loss.
It appears even the professional's professional has gotten a bit more frustrated than usual — understandable considering the way the starters came out with a lack of energy, with more turnovers (eight) than field goals (six) in the first quarter.
"Continue to try to lead behind the scenes," Wade said. "Can't stop when it's bad, when it's good. You gotta be the same."
Fred Hoiberg, fed up with the starters, ran with the reserves for the fourth quarter and outscored the Hawks by nearly 25 points, bringing the lead to 95-90 with a minute left before a Dennis Schroeder jumper restored order with 52.6 seconds left.
Four Hawks scored in double figures led by Schroeder's 25 points and six assists and Paul Millsap scoring 14 while making all four of his shots in just 22 minutes of run.
Perhaps it's the Hawks being the same kryptonite to the Bulls that the Bulls are to the Toronto Raptors — except the Bulls simply frustrate the Raptors, not embarrass them.
"I have been, we have been, tired of this. I gotta come out better," said Jimmy Butler, who led the Bulls with 19 points in 29 minutes. "I gotta play better from the jump, 48 minutes. That's not the way we're supposed to play.
"The way we practice is not the way we play in the game. Don't ask me why, I don't know. Starting with me and going down the line, we gotta be better as a whole. Otherwise we'll keep getting our asses beat and it's bad."
The Hawks shot over 60 percent for most of the night until the game devolved into what amounted to a pickup game late. After all, the Hawks seemed to be battling boredom by half, leading 65-36 and shooting 68 percent from the field and hitting 67 percent from three.
"We're gonna look at everything and we'll see how we go out and start tomorrow and a couple days after that, hopefully we figure some things out," Hoiberg said. "They shot over 70 percent in the first quarter and you dig yourselves a hole and it's impossible to get out."
Hoiberg said he would evaluate everything leading into Saturday's game at home against the Sacramento Kings, but Friday didn't seem to present any realistic lineup changes based on performance.
Bobby Portis scored 10 with seven rebounds off the bench, with Jerian Grant scoring 12 and Paul Zipser 10. Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic combined to shoot two for nine, so one wonders where Hoiberg can go.
"I don't know. Practice is good. Practice is great," Butler said. "Practice is not gonna win you games. We gotta take what we do in practice and take it over to the game."
The Bulls weren't about to make it any more suspenseful than it had to be, as they started off missing their first 11 3-pointers, often missing multiple open looks on the same possession.
It wasn't relegated to just shooting as the Bulls squandered easy opportunities in easy situations, like Denzel Valentine turning a three-on-one fast break into an airballed finger-roll attempt that he caught himself — a violation, of course.
"I don't know, I can't put a word on it. Because it's just talk," Butler said. "Doesn't matter what you say, if we don't go out there and do it, what the hell is talking gonna do? We've been up and down all year. If we don't guard and turn the ball over, games get out of hand very quickly."
This one was over a few minutes into it, as the Bulls looked like a lifeless squad with no direction and very little fight, short of a minor dustup between Dwight Howard and Robin Lopez in the third quarter.
At that point, though, all Howard had to do is point at the scoreboard, where a 30-point lead did all the necessary talking.
The Bulls trailed by 20 even before Tim Hardaway Jr. hit a 35-footer to end the first quarter, sending the Hawks off on a high and seemingly demoralizing the Bulls.
Even Butler's 19-point night, hitting six of his eight shots in 29 minutes, rang hollow. The Bulls could've trotted out a D-League team for the second half to gear up for Saturday's game against Sacramento and been better off than how they performed Friday night.
And for the Bulls, they can't simply just go back to the drawing board. There looks to be something fundamentally wrong with this bunch — either that, or the Atlanta night got the best of them Thursday.