Bulls can't hold 19-point lead, lose to Lakers

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez, center, loses handle of the ball as Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball, left, and center Brook Lopez, right defend him during the first half on Tuesday in Los Angeles. The Bulls got off to a great start and led by as many as 19 points early in the third quarter. The Lakers rallied, though, and pulled out a 103-94 victory at the Staples Center.

    Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez, center, loses handle of the ball as Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball, left, and center Brook Lopez, right defend him during the first half on Tuesday in Los Angeles. The Bulls got off to a great start and led by as many as 19 points early in the third quarter. The Lakers rallied, though, and pulled out a 103-94 victory at the Staples Center. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 11/22/2017 12:21 AM

When Fred Hoiberg was first asked when recovering guard Zach LaVine might play in a game, the Bulls coach joked that he planned to start LaVine on Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers.

As much as he probably wished that were true, Hoiberg knows it will be a few more weeks before LaVine is ready to suit up.

 

LaVine's pending return wasn't the only news when the Bulls battled the Lakers late Tuesday at the Staples Center. Hoiberg altered the starting lineup, using Kris Dunn at point guard over Jerian Grant for the first time.

The Bulls got off to a great start in this game and led by as many as 19 points early in the third quarter. The Lakers rallied, though, and pulled out a 103-94 victory at the Staples Center.

Backup shooting guard Antonio Blakeney was the story early. He scored all 15 of his points in the first half and tallied 11 in a row for the Bulls at one point. Justin Holiday free throws put the Bulls ahead 61-42 with 10:24 left in the third quarter.

But the Bulls stopped moving the ball, cooled off from the field and the Lakers closed within 75-72 heading into the fourth. After the Lakers tied the score at 80-80, the Bulls answered with 7 straight points, but the home team finally took the lead at 91-89 with 3:06 left on a tip by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. When Caldwell-Pope added a 3-pointer on the next trip, the Lakers led by 5 and the Bulls didn't recover.

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Denzel Valentine led the Bulls (3-12) with 17 points, while Blakeney added 15 and Robin Lopez scored 14. Dunn finished with 12 points, 6 assists and 4 turnovers. Rookie forward Kyle Kuzma led the Lakers with 22 points.

After missing the start of the regular season with a dislocated left index finger, Dunn has found his stride lately, averaging 19.5 points and 6.5 assists in the previous two games.

Dunn matched up against Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball at the start of the contest, which relates to another storyline -- and this one was inevitable. Ball's publicity-craving father, Lavar, criticized Lakers coach Luke Walton in an interview with Bleacher Report.

"They're soft. They don't know how to coach my son," Ball told the website. "I know how to coach him. I tell him to go get the victory. Stop messing around."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Dunn had some good moments early in Tuesday's game, blocking Lonzo Ball's fast-break layup attempt and getting a steal against the rookie.

LaVine tore the ACL in his left knee last Feb. 3 while playing for Minnesota. The fourth-year shooting guard was cleared by his doctor on Monday morning and participated in his first full practice with the Bulls later that day at his former college home, UCLA.

When speaking to reporters on Monday, LaVine didn't think he'd be tentative coming back from the injury.

"I won't even think about it," said LaVine, a two-time slam dunk contest champ. "I'm not going to change my game. You can't change the way you think about it because that's how I feel you can get hurt. I'm going to go play the same way.

"My legs feel stronger, my upper body feels stronger. I've gained about 10 pounds. Mentally, I feel good as well. The main thing is just my conditioning and timing after being out that long. Just appreciate the game I was missing."

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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