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Gasol shines as Bulls take down Lakers

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CHICAGO — Chicago Bulls forward Pau Gasol said it felt “weird” to see opponents wearing the same Los Angeles Lakers jersey that he donned for seven seasons.

Weird, but good.

“It’s a little bit emotional,” Gasol said. “But once you lock in, you focus on what you need to do on the floor. You focus on playing well and helping your team win.”

Gasol did exactly that by scoring 23 points with 13 rebounds as the Bulls cruised to a 113-93 win against the Lakers on Thursday night. He headed to the Los Angeles bench after the final buzzer to exchange hugs and handshakes with former teammates he left last summer to sign a 3-year contract with Chicago.

Guard Jimmy Butler added 21 points for the Bulls (20-9), who extended their winning streak to five games. Guard Derrick Rose scored 20 points with six assists in nearly 32 minutes.

The Lakers (9-20) lost for the fourth time in five games and stumbled to 5-10 on the road. They played the second consecutive game without guard Kobe Bryant, who sat out because of soreness.

So much for the talk about the Lakers playing better without Bryant in the lineup. Some observers suggested as much after the Lakers rolled to a double-digit win against Golden State without Bryant on Tuesday.

“I just say those people are idiots,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “He is one of the best to ever have played the game. When you take him off the team, you are going to have nights where you struggle.”

Forward Wesley Johnson led Los Angeles with 19 points. Center Jordan Hill added 16 points for the Lakers, who trimmed the deficit to two points in the third quarter before the Bulls pulled away by outscoring Los Angeles 30-16 in the fourth quarter.

Chicago’s depth was on display once again as bench players combined for 39 points on 15-for-31 shooting. Forward Nikola Mirotic and guard Aaron Brooks each scored 13 points off the bench.

“It is great for us, and we have great versatility,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We can mix and match Aaron and Derrick to give us a different look. All our bigs can play with each other. There are a lot of different things we can go to.”

Scott said the Bulls’ 57-39 edge in rebounds proved costly for the Lakers. Chicago pulled down 20 offensive rebounds, including eight from Gasol and six from center Joakim Noah.

“They’re a long, aggressive rebounding team,” Scott said. “If you don’t do your work early and block them out, you make it a jumping contest, and you’re going to lose that nine out of 10 times.”

Butler made a turnaround jump shot in the final seconds of the first half to give the Bulls a 58-47 lead at the break. Chicago led by as many as 16 points in the second quarter after a 23-8 run that included a pair of 3-pointers from Mirotic.

The Bulls led 27-24 at the end of the first quarter thanks to seven points apiece from Rose and Butler. Rose energized a sellout crowd of 22,865 fans by making each of Chicago’s first three shots including a pull-up jump shot, a floating jump shot and a 3-pointer from the wing.

Gasol said Rose’s determined start opened space for other players on offense.

“Every time Derrick is aggressive or Jimmy is aggressive, the defense has to react,” Gasol said.

Bryant wore a black shirt and red blazer as he watched the game from the end of the Lakers’ bench. The 36-year-old forward acknowledged before the game that his back was tight, his knees were sore and his Achilles tendons felt sore as he endured the rigors of his 19th NBA season.

Lakers guard Wayne Ellington started in place of Bryant.

“We have to come together as a team, collectively, step our game up,” Ellington said. “That’s all it takes.”

NOTES: Lakers G Kobe Bryant missed his second consecutive game because of soreness. Bryant, 36, said the odds were slim that he would play in the Lakers’ next game, Friday night in Dallas against the Mavericks. … Bulls G Kirk Hinrich missed his second game in a row due to a strained left hamstring. … Lakers coach Byron Scott said F Carlos Boozer deserves credit for embracing his recent role as a bench contributor. “Since we made the switch, he’s been much better on both ends of the floor,” Scott said. … Bulls F Doug McDermott missed his 10th consecutive game because of a right knee injury. … Bryant ranked No. 2 among Western Conference guards in All-Star voting, the league announced Thursday. Golden State G Stephen Curry led Bryant by less than 30,000 votes.