The Bulls' offense received an injection of hope Saturday, even if Pau Gasol took his 18.9 points per game from the Grizzlies to the Lakers.
Ben Gordon returned from missing five games with a sprained right wrist to score a team-high 33 points, and Joe Smith came off the bench after a two-game absence with the flu.
Exactly one year ago, Gasol rumors were as much a part of the Bulls' season as this annual extended February trip.
But on a night the Bulls dropped to a season-low 10 games under .500 with a 105-101 loss to the Kings, players processed the news that Gasol had moved onward, mindful that no major personnel moves likely will occur between now and the Feb. 21 trade deadline.
"I wouldn't say it's discouraging," Gordon said. "I was definitely shocked at how little the Lakers gave up to get a player like Pau. It's one of those things you wondered about last year. But now it's completely out of our minds."
At this point, nothing is shocking about a Bulls fourth-quarter scoring drought.
After Gordon's three-pointer pushed the Bulls ahead 95-92 with 4 minutes 50 seconds remaining, the Bulls went seven straight possessions and 3:32 without scoring until Joakim Noah made two free throws to make it 101-97.
The Kings took the lead for good on Brad Miller's free throws with 3:59 left and benefited from foolish fouls by Andres Nocioni and Noah in the backcourt during the scoring drought.
The Bulls were within 101-99 after Gordon made two free throws with 49.5 seconds remaining. But Ron Artest drove baseline on Noah and reverse dunked with 37.2 seconds left.
When Gordon and Kirk Hinrich missed jumpers on the ensuing possession, the Bulls were done.
"What I'd like to see us do is play an entire game with effort at both ends," interim coach Jim Boylan said.
Artest led the Kings with 28 points. Miller had 22 points and 20 rebounds.
Gordon talked openly last season about the benefits a post-up presence would bring to his perimeter-based game.
General manager John Paxson quietly had pursued Gasol again this season. But the Grizzlies decided to trim payroll and the Bulls' options were limited in this regard because of the desire to avoid paying the league's luxury tax.
Gordon picked some place for his return.
In three previous games at Arco Arena, he had shot 5-for-25. But he and the Bulls came out sizzling, shooting 75 percent in the first quarter with Gordon scoring eight off the bench.
Still, the Kings seized control with a 17-3 run late in the first half, leading 63-60 at halftime. Kevin Martin, who added 26, consistently hurt the Bulls and Thabo Sefolosha with back cuts.
The Bulls trailed 78-77 after three quarters despite Ben Wallace, Gordon and Tyrus Thomas all receiving third-quarter technicals.
Viktor Khryapa remained prominently in the rotation, playing the final 10:11 of the third when Boylan pulled Nocioni and sat him the rest of the quarter.
The Bulls went 2-3 in the five games Gordon missed, with Luol Deng out as well with left Achilles' tendinitis. They averaged 85 points in those games, including a season-low 67 points in Wednesday's loss to Minnesota.
"There's games you can survive without a couple of guys," Boylan said. "But eventually when you lose a lot of scoring like we have, it catches up to you."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun