Lakers vs. Bulls: Kobe Will Play but Is Chicago Still a Better Team Right Now?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IDecember 22, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 18:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers controls the ball against Luol Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls on November 18, 2008 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

ESPN recently reported that Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant will suit up for the team's regular season opener against the Chicago Bulls on Christmas Day, and while Bryant's presence certainly adds a little spice to the matchup, Chicago may still be the better team right now.

Most eyes will be focused on Bryant and Bulls superstar point guard Derrick Rose, but the outcome of the contest will likely hinge on the performances of their less-heralded teammates.

And in the Lakers case this is not the same team that managed to split two games with Chicago last season.

Reserve guard Shannon Brown is gone as is versatile forward Lamar Odom, and center Andrew Bynum will miss the season opener due to a five-game suspension incurred in last year's playoffs.

Replacing Brown's meager production should not be much of an issue, but it may be impossible to compensate for the absence of Bynum and Odom, especially when you consider Chicago is arguably the only team who could match the Lakers strength in the post last season.

Leaving forward Pau Gasol at the mercy of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer is bad enough, but the Lakers must also find a way to contend with the league's reigning MVP in Rose.

Due to the defensive ineptitude of Derek Fisher and Steve Blake Bryant will likely be called on to defend Rose on various occasions, and even though his wrist injury will not prevent him from staying in front of Rose Bryant's inferior quickness will.

Bryant's length may bother Rose as it did in last season's Lakers victory in Los Angeles, but I'm not so sure that Rose will be as hesitant to shoot some of those open jumpers that were available in that game.

Bryant gifted Rose plenty of perimeter looks while taking away the threat of dribble penetration by playing several feet off of Rose, effectively daring him to beat the Lakers from outside.

Former Lakers head coach Phil Jackson's strategy worked that time, but on Christmas there will be no Bynum guarding the rim and no Odom to make the Bulls pay on the offensive boards and in transition.

On Sunday Chicago will be a stronger team in the paint, they will have the stronger bench unit and the addition of Richard Hamilton may give them an edge in the back court as well.

Hamilton finally gives the Bulls a consistent scoring threat opposite Rose, and his mid-range game should prove to be a perfect compliment to Rose's ability to get to the rim.

On paper it looks like the Lakers will have little to no chance against the Bulls on opening day, but they are still the Lakers, and with a motivated Bryant anything is possible.

If the Lakers can manage to keep the game close for three quarters and battle the Bulls on even terms, then the game very well could be decided in the final 12 minutes.

The trick for Los Angeles may be finding a way to keep the contest from devolving into a route during the game's first 36 minutes.