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LAKERS 96, CHICAGO 87

Kobe Bryant has 42 points in Lakers' victory

Broken finger doesn't appear to be a problem against the Bulls.

December 16, 2009|By Mike Bresnahan

Reporting from Chicago — Ron Artest is a fast learner.

In the few months he's been able to call the Lakers his new team, he has one thing figured out -- don't ask Kobe Bryant how he's feeling.

"If I ask him how his finger is doing, he's going to strangle me," Artest said. "When he's hurt, you're not allowed to ask him how he's doing or you're not allowed to ask him, 'Are you OK?' He gets really mad. Really. You think he's playing. He's really serious."

Bryant pretty much showed everybody how he felt with a 42-point outburst Tuesday in the Lakers' 96-87 victory over the Chicago Bulls at the United Center.

He made 15 of 26 shots four days after suffering an avulsion fracture in the index finger of his right hand. After going seven for 24 Saturday against Utah, Bryant pushed the tempo against the Bulls, scoring 20 points in the first quarter as he made eight shots in a row.

"It was important to come out and for me to have a good game," Bryant said. "I didn't want people thinking that because I have a broken finger, we were weakened or something like that, because that's not the case."

If Bryant was the reason the Lakers' 11-game winning streak dead-ended in Utah, he was also the main reason they've now won one in a row.

Among other things, his left-handed up-and-under move erased John Salmons and put the Lakers in front, 92-84, with 39.2 seconds left.

He wasn't perfect, committing a staggering eight turnovers, but he impressed Artest . . . assuming Artest didn't ask how he felt on the bus ride back to the team hotel.

"I asked him a long time ago, 'Do you speak to God, do you speak to Jesus?' Some people are just on another level," Artest said, before turning to a Twitter analogy. "Somebody asked me, 'Does Kobe Bryant tweet?' And I said, 'Does God tweet, because God is unbelievable.' "

No one ever said Artest made sense with every sentence he uttered, but the point was made.

Bryant suffered the fracture, in which a small fragment of bone is pulled off by a tendon, on Friday against Minnesota. He hoped it would "calcium up" in two weeks, but for now, the finger "hurts all the time."

"It's the most challenging one that we've had," he said. "We've played with a lot of different sprained ankles and a broken knuckle, but a shooting hand, right on my index finger, it's tough. It affects my follow-through."

The Bulls were supposed to be on the rebound after taking Boston to seven games in the first round of the playoffs last season, but they have lost 11 of their last 13 games and are barely showing up. Some of their recent gems (at home, no less): a 32-point loss to Toronto, a 26-point loss to Boston and a two-point loss to New Jersey (yes, New Jersey).

They showed up Tuesday, however.

Luol Deng and Derrick Rose each had 21 points, and Joakim Noah had 11 points and 20 rebounds, 15 on the offensive end, which irritated Lakers Coach Phil Jackson.

"We won't win many games playing like we did," he said. "We gave up a zillion offensive rebounds and I think Noah had 14 or 15 all by himself. We really have to focus much better on that."

With Artest making only three of 14 shots, Derek Fisher going scoreless and Pau Gasol getting only eight shots, the Lakers obviously leaned heavily on Bryant, though Gasol had 16 rebounds, falling short of a third consecutive 20-board game.

Bryant used a new splint, one that was made more of a flexible plastic, unlike the mostly metal one he used against Utah.

"It gave me enough padding where I can catch the ball and handle the ball enough and shoot the ball where it's not as painful as it was in Utah," he said.

If it weren't for the turnovers, his night would have been almost flawless.

"That's significant because I think that's part of that hand not being particularly right," Jackson said. "Very fortunate for us that he was shooting the ball that well."

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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