Taj Gibson early and Joakim Noah late doesn't sound like a blueprint for successful offensive basketball.
But the big-man combo -- more renowned for their defensive skills -- carried the Bulls to a 92-86 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday at the Staples Center, bringing the ice-show road trip to a close with a 3-3 record.
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Gibson, starting for the second straight game at power forward in place of Carlos Boozer (calf strain), scored 12 of the Bulls' first 23 points. After missing their first 4 shots of the game, the Bulls hit 12 of their next 14.
"I think Taj is playing great basketball," Noah told reporters after the contest. "I think that once he gets his playmaking down, it's going to get really ugly, because he can really score the ball in a lot of different ways for us right now, and I think he's just getting better."
The Bulls (25-25) parlayed the fast start into a 72-53 lead late in the third quarter, then had to fight off a late comeback by the Lakers.
Noah helped keep the cushion intact with a couple of memorable fourth-quarter baskets. First, he drained a 13-foot jumper. A couple of minutes later, he pump-faked Chris Kaman and drove the lane for a one-handed power slam.
"I'm just happy it went down, because I know that my jump shot is so ugly that when I knock it down it's demoralizing to the other team," Noah joked about the first basket. "It was a big jump shot for me."
Noah also played the final 6:53 with 5 fouls. Kaman took advantage of the softer defense to score a season-high 27 points, but it wasn't enough.
Noah led the Bulls with 20 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks. Gibson added 18 points, while Kirk Hinrich shot the ball well and finished with 17.
After nearly two weeks in warm-weather cities, the Bulls headed back to the cold of Chicago on Sunday night. They'll return to the United Center on Tuesday against Atlanta.
Three wins on the road trip wasn't a bad result considering when they left town the Bulls were 4-10 against teams from the Western Conference. The Bulls have just two road games against the West left on the schedule, in Dallas and Minnesota.
"The whole time I've been here we've had some real tough injuries and we've always been at the edge, but we always crawl and fight our way back. That's our mindset," Gibson said. "We've got young guys, new guys, and they believe in the same thing.
"We believe we've got a shot at the playoffs. We believe in each other. And that shows by the way we play."
Gibson continued to show the Bulls he's a strong option for full-time starting forward. Boozer is expected to move on via the amnesty clause, but the Bulls are hoping to bring 6-foot-10 Nikola Mirotic over from Spain this summer.
He's more of an outside-shooting "stretch four," but he could vie for minutes at the position. The Bulls also might flirt with acquiring Carmelo Anthony, which would almost certainly necessitate moving Gibson and his salary elsewhere.
In six games as a starter this season, Gibson has averaged 18.7 points and 10 rebounds.
"Taj has been terrific," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "The things that he's doing -- making plays out of the post, showing great patience. Even the ones he missed tonight, I thought he was getting a good shot up. He didn't get calls, but he didn't allow that to fluster him. He just kept going on."
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