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Article updated: 1/22/2013 12:06 AM

Bulls, Lakers both hard to figure out

By Mike Imrem

The Bulls and Lakers didn't so much collide Monday night in the United Center as circle each other curiously.

Why wouldn't the Bulls wonder why the Lakers have struggled with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in their lineup?

Why wouldn't the Lakers wonder why the Bulls haven't struggled with the injured Derrick Rose out of theirs?

The Bulls' record is 24-16 after winning this game 95-83, and the Lakers are 17-24 after suffering their sixth straight road loss. In related stories the Cubs are winning the World Series, Northwestern is in the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Bears lead the NFL in passing yardage.

OK, let's not go crazy here with the exaggerations, but the Lakers and Bulls are oddities with the former playing like a freak show and the latter playing freakishly well.

Of course, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau didn't think his team would have the record it has approaching the midpoint of the season. No, he thought it would be better and still thinks it should be.

That's why Thibodeau does things like bench Joakim Noah for the last 23 minutes of an overtime loss to the Grizzlies. If the Bulls are going to go down, Thibodeau doesn't want it to be with his customarily achieving center underachieving.

For better or worse, Thibodeau pushes the Bulls to win every game and wins enough of them to have impressive regular-season records.

Thibodeau sticks to the mantra that he wants the Bulls to look ahead instead of back, work hard every day to improve and be at their best entering the postseason. He remains relentless in the pursuit of perfection, even though he knows it's unattainable, especially with Rose rehabbing a surgical knee.

Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni now there's someone who better believe that his team could and should be better.

With all those superstars, the Lakers are making less of more. Without their one superstar, the Bulls are making more of less. That's more or less the story of these two teams right now.

Not that the Bulls haven't taken a circuitous path, winning on the road over winning teams and losing at home to losing teams.

As for the Lakers' troubles, Thibodeau's explanation is that "they have a lot of new players."

The implication is that it takes time to adjust. Then there have been injuries. Then there was a coaching change.

"When they get healthy," Thibodeau said, "they're going to be tough."

That's his projection for the Bulls, too. Thibodeau expects his current players to improve and then the team to improve even more when Rose returns.

The Bulls played without injured Luol Deng against the Lakers, but Thibodeau demands that the next man steps up, in this case Jimmy Butler, who scored 10 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in 43 minutes while helping hold Bryant to 16 points.

"Jimmy was terrific," Thibodeau said.

There's no give in this coach. There are no excuses. There are no reasons to not win with our without Rose, with or without Deng, with or without both of them.

That explains why the Bulls are better than projected, but there's still no valid explanation for the Lakers being worse other than they're so dysfunctional.

It's only January, though. The playoffs are three months, about 50 degrees and myriad developments away.

Tom Thibodeau, ever respectful of the process, knows it's too soon to be satisfied with the Bulls or to dismiss the Lakers.

It was difficult not to after Monday night's outcome.

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