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Lakers Get Caught in Middle of Bulls'-Eye : Pro basketball: Even with Jordan and Rodman not at full strength, Chicago improves to 19-2 with 108-88 victory, and L.A. is impressed.

December 17, 1995|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHICAGO — The Lakers got their turn in the Chicago Bulls' shooting gallery Saturday night, the latest moving target, albeit not always a fast one, to be picked off.

Three more turnovers than assists and production from only one starter, Cedric Ceballos, made them an easy mark. The Bulls took it from there, winning for the ninth time in a row and improving to 19-2 overall with a 108-88 victory over the Lakers before 23,824 at the United Center.

Dennis Rodman started hurt and Michael Jordan finished hurt and it didn't make a difference. Another run with the Bulls that ended in disaster.

"I think they're as good as any team they've had," said Laker forward Fred Roberts, a 12-year veteran.

That includes, of course, the championship teams in 1991, '92 and '93.

"They have size," Roberts said. "[Scottie] Pippen is as good as he's ever been. Michael's great. They're just really strong. They're as good as they've ever been."

Added Laker Coach Del Harris: "They're certainly as good. I'd say the only question will be how well the bench responds over the course of the season. So far, it's been pretty good."

The contribution Saturday came from Toni Kukoc, who made eight of 11 shots, including all three of his three-point tries, to score 22 points in 26 minutes off the bench. And he was best when it mattered, accounting for 13 of the points when the Bulls went on a 17-4 run in the fourth quarter after the Lakers had closed to within 84-77 with 8:47 remaining.

And these Bulls are beat up?

Rodman was a question mark for the game because of a strained right calf, not to be confused with the strained left calf that kept him out of 12 games earlier in the season. He played 36 minutes and had 15 rebounds, right at his average. Apparently giddy with the recovery, he also tried, and missed, two three-point shots, in back-to-back possessions, in the closing minutes.

Jordan, meanwhile, went in healthy, then dislocated his right index finger late in the first quarter, the second time that has happened this season. He left in obvious pain, got the finger taped, and returned to miss seven of his first eight shots and finish only five of 20. But going 10 of 10 from the line allowed him to reach 20 points, along with seven rebounds, six assists, five steals and 38 minutes.

In Pippen's case, the pain belonged to the Lakers, forced to endure his 33 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.

"He's playing better than anyone in the universe," Ceballos said after finishing with 27 points and nine rebounds himself. "I don't know what people say after they play me, but now I know how they feel."

Laker emotions are equally obvious. They dropped to 1-3 on the trip, and 3-10 on the road, and, most glaringly, back to .500 overall at 12-12.

*

Laker Notes

Corie Blount had four points and two rebounds in 10 minutes in the first meeting against his former teammates, a somewhat disappointing showing in a game he had long anticipated. "It felt pretty good," said Blount, a Bull the first two seasons of his pro career before being traded to the Lakers in June. "I didn't get as many minutes as I thought I would. I don't know what the problem was." He began the night averaging 19.6 minutes after having easily won what was a three-man race in training camp to become the backup power forward. But Saturday, Derek Strong played 24 minutes and didn't waste the rare opportunity, finishing with seven points and, more importantly, seven rebounds. "I'm not getting much time, but the time I'm in there I'm going to make count," Strong said. . . . More troubles for the Lakers in fourth-quarter rebounding. A night after getting beat on the boards, 16-3, the final 12 minutes at Washington, they were dismantled by the Bulls, 22-5. Included in that was 13 offensive rebounds, a Chicago record.

The game between the Lakers and Bulls was also a meeting of the teams waiting for Sam Bowie to make a decision on whether he will un-retire. Bowie has said in the unlikely event he returns, it will be with the Lakers, the team for whom he played the previous two seasons and who also would have no salary restrictions on a new contract. Chicago, however, can offer a much better chance at a championship in 1996. "It's whatever he wants to achieve as an individual," Michael Jordan said. "I know Sam and he's a loyal person. For us to get him away from L.A., we'd have to break those ties a little bit." The Bulls start Luc Longley at center and bring Bill Wennington and ex-Laker James Edwards off the bench. . . . Try telling the Lakers all the experienced referees are back. The league added five rookie officials when the lockout ended, and they have seen three of them in the first three games since the return to work.

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