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GASOL ALREADY IN TOP FORM LOS ANGELES - It took about six weeks for Pau Gasol to work his way back from a lingering hamstring injury. It took about six minutes for him to remind the Lakers all the ways they missed him.

Taking the floor after a thunderous ovation during lineup introductions, Gasol scored his team's first points on a tip-in and then added two free throws, another put-back and a pull-up jumper before getting his first rest midway through the first quarter. He finished with a team-high 24 points and 13 rebounds on Thursday night, good enough to help the Lakers to a comfortable 108-93 victory over Chicago.

Although LA won 8 of 11 games without Gasol and received plenty of interior scoring from Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum, the Spaniard's return completes the Lakers , to steal a phrase from a lovesick Tom Cruise in "Jerry Maguire."

Not only does the presence of Gasol allow Lamar Odom to serve as a stabilizing force for the struggling second unit, it also gives the starters an interior scorer with the passing acumen and floor vision to combat occasional stretches of stagnancy.

Whether it was Gasol's influence or simply a coincidence, the Lakers' offense ran with the finely tuned precision of a European sports car. Six players had at least 10 points by the end of the third quarter as the Lakers never trailed, opening an 11-point lead by halftime and stretching it to 20 late in the third quarter.

Conditioning was Gasol's primary concern before the game, but he easily exceeded Coach Phil Jackson's pregame goal of 25 minutes. Gasol played 34 minutes before exiting late in the fourth quarter, occasionally looking winded but showing nary a hint of lingering pain.

The only scary moment for Gasol came with 1:31 remaining in the third quarter when he crashed to the floor after Jannero Pargo undercut him going up for a shot. Gasol bounced up quickly, sinking both free throws to extend the lead back to 17.

If recent history is any guide, the Lakers picked an ideal time to renew acquaintances with Chicago. The Bulls were 10-56 since Michael Jordan retired on their annual circus trip, a two-week November road swing that occurs when the Basketball team is displaced by clowns, lion tamers and trapeze artists from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey.

Derrick Rose had 16 of his team-high 20 points in the second half, but it was not nearly enough to get the Bulls a second straight victory.

Derek Fisher played pesky defense against Rose in the first half and scored 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting for the Lakers , while Bryant had a quiet 21 points, surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for second on the Lakers' career scoring list.

Reach Jeff Eisenberg at

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Added: November 21, 2009


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