Christmas in Hollywood: Lakers host Bulls

A pair of NBA heavyweights clash on Christmas Day when reigning MVP Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls open the season in Hollywood against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.

There was some concern that Bryant would miss the season opener after tearing a ligament in his wrist during the preseason but the All-Star indicated he should be able to lace them up.

"Yeah, I should be fine," Bryant said after Thursday's practice.

Bryant will need to be fine since the traditionally powerful Lakers come into the season with more questions than usual.

Amid divorce, injury and a significantly watered down supporting cast, Bryant insists he's moved on from the possible three-team blockbuster that would have brought Chris Paul to Staples Center as a Laker.

There was a lot of lip service about competitive balance during the NBA lockout this offseason. LeBron James fleeing Cleveland for the sun and sand of South Beach and Carmelo Anthony wrangling his way to New York upset more than a few "small-market" owners around the league last season, so much so that they almost shut down the sport for the year.

So, maybe it should have been no surprise that antennas were raised when the NBA-owned Hornets agreed to send Paul to the mighty Lakers in a three-way blockbuster that would have sent Lamar Odom to the Big Easy and Pau Gasol to Houston.

In the end, however, the league declined to approve the trade for "basketball reasons." after a number of owners complained and Paul ended up across the hall with the Clippers.

The fallout from the failed deal was immense. The Lakers failed to land one of the best point guards in the game which hurt them in their pursuit of Orlando All-Star center Dwight Howard. Meanwhile, Odom was miffed by the proposal and requested a trade, eventually ending up in Dallas with the defending world champions.

The ultra-competitive Bryant still thinks his Lakers are contenders but remember Phil Jackson and all of his rings are gone in favor of Mike Brown and a more defensive-minded scheme. Also, general manager Mitch Kupchak has already intimated that he thought his roster wasn't good enough and that was before he shipped out Odom and shopped Gasol. Meanwhile, Bryant's wife, Vanessa, filed for divorce on Dec. 16 after allegedly catching her husband cheating on her. And finally Bryant suffered the wrist injury.

Certainly doesn't sound like a recipe for winning.

The Bulls, meanwhile, won the Central Division by a whopping 25 games over Indiana last season as the Pacers, Bucks, Pistons and Cavaliers finished a laughable 207 games below .500 collectively with a winning percentage of .369.

Led by Rose the Bulls cruised to an NBA-best 62-20 regular season that ultimately saw them lose in the Eastern Conference finals to the Miami Heat in five games. A fifth game by the way that saw them blow a 12-point lead with less than three minutes to go and Rose missing a free throw that would have tied the game then a three-pointer at the buzzer.

Given the state of the NBA and superstars choosing to leave, the Bulls made certain their leader wouldn't be going anywhere and signed Rose to a five-year contract extension just last week.

The Bulls that take the court today won't look much different than the team that left the court against Miami back in late May. The one big addition, though, will be shooting guard Rip Hamilton, who comes to the Bulls after spending the last nine years with Detroit.

"On this team, there are no ball hogs," Hamilton said recently. "There are guys trying to make plays for each other, guys always helping each other out. That makes the game so much easier."

Lakers center Andrew Bynum will miss the opener as he begins serving a four- game suspension for making unnecessary and excessive contact with Dallas' J.J. Barea in the last year's playoffs.

LA had won seven straight games in this series until Chicago broke through last December. On Christmas Day, the Lakers are 20-17 all-time, including a 12-8 home mark. The Bulls, meanwhile, are 9-6 overall on the holiday and 2-6 as the road team.