Bench minutes

If you’ve been reading this blog all season, you know that I refer to the time when Kobe Bryant sits as the “adventure minutes” of every game. You never know what lineup Phil Jackson is going to put on the court and you never know quite what the Lakers are going to do.

The adventure minutes once again were pivotal in Tuesday’s loss to Chicago. The Lakers played a lineup of Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Maurice Evans, Vladimir Radmanovic and Andrew Bynum and bought Bryant 5:23 of rest at the start of the second quarter, building as much as a 10-point lead.

The big play during that sequence came as Evans made a great spin move and scored off an alley-oop pass from Farmar. He was fouled as well and converted the three-point play as the Lakers went up 34-28. Jackson gambled in not having Bryant or Luke Walton on the court and had it pay off.

The Lakers outscored Chicago 12-6 with Bryant out in the second quarter. The fourth quarter, however, could not have been any different. Jackson went with the same lineup except for playing Walton instead of Radmanovic.

The big play this time came on – – what else? – – a screen-and-roll sequence. Michael Sweetney scored as part of a three-point play in which he had the ball slapped out of his hands but recovered to power it into the basket. Vujacic fouled him and Bynum slapped the basket standard in frustration.

In the fourth, the Lakers were outscored 10-4 with Bryant on the bench. He sat out just 3:45 before having to be rushed back. The Lakers had no answer for the screen-roll – – Sweetney scored eight points in the quarter – – and you had to wonder if Jackson wished he’d gone with Kwame Brown or Ronny Turiaf instead of Bynum.

“They got us on our heels with scome screen-roll with Sweetney and (Chris) Duhon and that created a situation for us out there that made us kind of timid,” Jackson said.

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In case you missed it, the Phoenix Suns won their 15th straight game and now lead the Pacific Division by 2 1-2 games over the Lakers. It’s going to be an absolute dogfight in the Western Conference this season, especially with Denver acquiring Allen Iverson on Tuesday.

It will be interesting to see how the Lakers respond Wednesday against Minnesota. The Lakers are playing the second game of a back-to-back and the Timberwolves have been off since Saturday. The Suns are playing a back-to-back at Denver as well. The Nuggets won’t have Iverson or their suspended players.

If you’re a Lakers fan, you don’t want to start seeing Phoenix take a four- or five-game lead in the division this early. The way the playoff seedings are set up, unless the Lakers finish with the second-best record in the entire conference, they probably would draw a fifth or sixth seed.

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By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

CHICAGO–The Lakers flew halfway across the country to open a six-game road trip against the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night. It turned out they left their legs behind in Los Angeles thanks to double-overtime and overtime games last weekend.

That was only conclusion coach Phil Jackson could draw after the Lakers went from 11 points ahead in the third quarter to eight points down in the fourth and went on to lose 94-89 at United Center.

Jackson alternately described the Lakers as “ragged and “very lethargic and said he told the team during a fourth-quarter timeout with 6:35 left, “Youre playing tired like youre 20 behind or 15 behind.

“This was a ballgame that I felt this team should have won tonight, Jackson added. “Our team didnt obviously win it but we were leading, controlling the game for two-and-half quarters and really just came up short in energy in the process.

The Lakers scored 52 fewer points than they did two nights earlier against Washington as Kobe Bryant fouled out in the final minute with 19 points and made just 6 of 19 shots.

They now have lost consecutive games for only the second time all season and were exposed by the Bulls with one screen-and-roll after another in the fourth quarter.

While Bryant rested on the bench, Mike Sweetney scored eight points in four minutes, all off the screen-and-roll with Chris Duhon. The Lakers struggled to defend the play with their reserve guards and teenage center Andrew Bynum on the floor.

“Youve got to give up something, Kwame Brown said. “Id rather give up a 3-pointer than a layup or a dunk. Guys got to start giving themselves up instead of worrying about their man scoring.

This was serious business for Jackson, who selected the Bulls as the one team for which he would personally prepare the scouting report this season. That left Jackson writing keys to the game on the locker room board in the 90 minutes before tip-off.

On the defensive side, Jackson wanted to keep the Bulls from getting out in transition, play solid screen/roll defense, run Andres Nocioni off his shot and control Luol Deng, which Jackson highlighted under “Deng, Ding, Dong.

He wanted the Lakers to beat Chicago from the inside out, with a message to Brown to “do something productive with the ball. The Bulls were not the same team the Lakers beat last month, winning for the 12th time in 13 games Tuesday.

The Lakers went into the fourth quarter tied at 70-70 but had to fight back from eight points down once they brought their starters back. They had a chance to tie with 2:06 left but Maurice Evans missed a 3-pointer off a Bryant pass.

It was just one of the 16 missed 3-pointers for the Lakers. The Bulls ran out for a basket by Deng. The Lakers missed the defense of injured forward Lamar Odom on Deng, who led Chicago with 23 points and 12 rebounds.

Coming out of a timeout down 89-84, Brown had his shot blocked by Ben Wallace. Brown totaled a season-high 18 points and 12 rebounds in the game and claimed afterward that he was fouled on the play.

“That was not a block, Brown said. “ If you go look at tape, that was not a block. They didnt call it as they shouldnt against the Defensive Player of the Year. Next time Ill go up stronger.

Bryant fouled out with 52.4 seconds left, having picked up three fouls in the last five minutes. He left wagging his finger at referee Scott Foster and said afterward he pulled his hand back on Thabo Sefoloshas jumper to avoid a sixth foul.

It was a frustrating night all around for Bryant. The Lakers played him at the scoring wing spot hoping to take advantage of the smaller guards defending him. But Duhon and others succeeded in fronting Bryant and keeping the ball out of his hands.

After scoring 53 and 45 points against Houston and Washington over the weekend, Bryant was held under 20 Tuesday and missed all five 3-pointers he took.

“It looked like Kobe was just ragged out there, Jackson said. “Even his free throws were short. It was just a matter of lively nature and energy that you need to have to play a game.

The only bright spot might have come in Bryant playing only 38 minutes. The Lakers will play the second game of a back-to-back tonight at Minnesota before continuing on to New Jersey, Miami, Orlando and Charlotte.

“We just have to learn how to push through that, Bryant said. “Thats what the seasons about is learning how to adapt. I think having those two games definitely took a little bit out of us. I think a lot of our shots were falling short, legs werent really there.