The Lakers began a season-long seven-game trip Saturday night at the United Center, and any longtime Bulls fan knows that means time for Phil Jackson to pass out books to his players.
"Kids don't read anymore," Jackson said. "They just watch things. I considered a Kindle."
No matter the medium, this one shaped up as required reading until a brutal fourth-quarter collapse.
In a playoff-type atmosphere with a raucous sellout crowd of 23,011, the Bulls stared down the Western Conference's best for three quarters before crumbling badly in a 117-109 loss.
So long to what was once a 16-point lead, bye-bye to the Bulls' seven-game home winning streak and see you later to the three-game streak overall.
At least the Bulls' one-game lead over the Bobcats and 11/2-game lead over the Bucks remained when those teams also lost in the race for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
"We had a good opportunity and let it slip away," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "Our turnovers in the second half were the difference."
The Lakers, who had a staggering 16 steals, did convert 23 Bulls turnovers into 27 points. But with Kobe Bryant needing 25 shots to post his team-high 28 points, his reserve teammates were the real story.
Trailing for the entire second and third quarters, the Lakers pulled even for the first time since midway through the first quarter on Lamar Odom's three-pointer with 10 minutes 12 seconds left.
The Lakers then surged ahead for good on Sasha Vujacic's jumper with 8:28 remaining. This kick-started a 14-0 run — all but the final four points with Bryant watching — that featured the Bulls' worst stretch all game.
John Salmons, who led the Bulls with 30 points, had a three-pointer rim in and out, and Jordan Farmar swished a three at the other end. Ben Gordon committed one of his seven turnovers.
Josh Powell hit a jumper. Derrick Rose, who scored 25, and Brad Miller committed turnovers on consecutive possessions and Farmer sank another three.
Pau Gasol, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds, scored on a two-shot possession for a 104-93 lead. Farmar dunked after three straight Bulls misses.
Tyrus Thomas, who had 15 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, finally ended the carnage when he split a pair of free throws with 4:05 left. In all, the Bulls went 4:34 without scoring and 6:33 without a field goal as the Lakers began trapping hard on the perimeter and screen-and-rolls.
"We were running really well in the first half and pushing the tempo," Del Negro said.
"Second half, we were more stagnant and weren't moving the ball."
Bryant returned for the cherry on the sundae, stealing the ball after his own miss and making a three-pointer with 3:33 left.
"It's definitely frustrating," Gordon said. "They're probably the best team in the league. And their second unit isn't an average second unit."
The Bulls sank 20 of their first 28 shots, a ridiculous 71.4 percent, and led 62-48 at halftime after Salmons' running three-pointer at the buzzer.
Those were distant memories by game's end.
"We definitely missed an opportunity," Rose said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun