Off target all night, Kobe Bryant sure was on point when it was over.
His frustration stood out like a breakaway dunk, his comments sharper than any shot he took, after the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Chicago Bulls 95-83 Monday night. The Lakers have lost nine of 11 and six straight on the road.
"I remember being frustrated before, but this is different because there are so many pieces, so many things going on," Bryant said. "It is a little different."
Where to start with this one?
Well, there was Kirk Hinrich scoring a season-high 22 points, Marco Belinelli adding 15 points, and the Bulls pulling away down the stretch.
Belinelli came up big in the closing minutes, scoring eight points during an 18-4 run that broke a 75-75 tie. He started it by hitting two free throws after getting fouled by Dwight Howard with 6:54 left in the game, and wrapped two 3-pointers around a layup by Los Angeles' Earl Clark, making it 89-79 with 2:27 remaining.
The Lakers' loss came after coach Mike D'Antoni made a surprise lineup switch. He used Pau Gasol off the bench, while starting Clark because he wanted more quickness, but the slide continued on a night when Bryant and Howard were mostly nonfactors against a Bulls team without Luol Deng and still awaiting the return of Derrick Rose.
Steve Nash led the Lakers with 18 points, while Bryant finished with just 16 on 7-of-22 shooting, ending a run of 24 games with 20 or more points.
"Very, very tough, very, very frustrating, trying to keep my cool," Bryant said. "It is embarrassing. It is not even embarrassing. I am a big history guy. Playing here in this arena with these incredible fans, you're in the house of MJ, Pippen, PJ (Phil Jackson) built, to put this kind of brand of basketball on the floor is just not acceptable."
Bryant even mentioned ditching D'Antoni's up-tempo style in favor of posting up more.
"We're going to have to look at some things," he said. "We're going to have to change something. Probably going to have to post the ball a lot more, slow the game down a lot more. That's just my intuition, but that's my gut right now. I have to take a look at the film again, but we're definitely going to have to change something."
Howard had just eight points and nine rebounds while picking up five fouls. Clark and Metta World Peace scored 12 apiece, and Gasol added 15 points and 12 rebounds in his new reserve role.
"It isn't against him, it's better for us right now," D'Antoni said of Gasol before the game. "We're going to try to work through it and see what we can do. Things do change, things happen, I can't see the future but we're ready to go forward."
The move caught Gasol off guard.
"I have no idea," he said when asked about his future in Los Angeles. "I can't really worry about something that is out of my hands so I am just going to stay positive and do my best, but it is not something I am too thrilled about. I wasn't expecting it. But right now we have bigger things to worry about as a group. As a team player that's what I'm most concerned about."
Hinrich hit 9 of 11 shots and nailed three 3-pointers. Belinelli and Nate Robinson (11 points) also hit three, and the Bulls were 9 of 17 overall from long range.
Joakim Noah added 13 rebounds and a season-best six blocks after sitting out the final 22 minutes, 53 seconds of Saturday's loss to Memphis. He blamed himself for the benching the other night, saying, "That was all me."
Noah was angry at coach Tom Thibodeau for taking him out of the game and acknowledged saying some things he regretted. He wouldn't say if he and Thibodeau discussed the incident, but he made it clear he had no one to blame but himself.
"I admit it," he said. "It was my fault. I shouldn't have said the things that I said."
Carlos Boozer chipped in with 14 points and six rebounds. Richard Hamilton scored 13, although he shot just 6 of 18. Jimmy Butler, making his second straight start with Deng (sore right hamstring) sidelined, scored 10 while trying to guard Bryant. And Chicago won this one in regulation after playing three straight overtime games.
NOTES: Thibodeau said Rose is "very close" to starting full contact drills in practice, the next step in the star point guard's recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Could it happen this week? "Yeah — it could," Thibodeau said. Is it scheduled to happen this week? Thibodeau said, "It could." He also said Rose will have to go through full-contact drills "for an extended amount of time" and that he won't be playing after "one or two days of contact."