Pau Gasol, now of Chicago Bulls, says it'll be 'weird' to face Lakers

Lakers to face Pau Gasol, who's become comfortable with Chicago Bulls, on Christmas Day

And you think the Lakers are going through strange times.

"Weird" only begins to describe how Pau Gasol feels playing against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers on Christmas Day. While wearing the red and black tones of the Chicago Bulls.

It's a day Gasol has pondered for a while even though five months ago he eagerly embraced a new team (for less salary) and new city (despite a lack of oceanfront property).

Gasol quickly became comfortable with the Bulls, his stats taking a jump with a substantially better supporting cast.

Yet it wouldn't be surprising Thursday if his mind flickered back to Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, when he had 19 points and 18 rebounds and carried the Lakers to a title against Boston.

Or the less enthralling but still solid championship victory over Orlando a year earlier.

Or maybe even the stunning trade that took place on Feb. 1, 2008, the Lakers acquiring Gasol from Memphis for Kwame Brown, Aaron McKie, Javaris Crittenton, two first-round picks and Gasol's younger brother, Marc.

Many images will funnel through Gasol's memory at United Center, his new home.

It will be "emotional … weird … hard to focus," he told reporters. "But at the same time, I look forward to it, to see some of the people I've been through a lot with."

Gasol still keeps track of Bryant. How could he not?

Bryant fervently defended him many times, trying to convince Lakers management to keep him at all costs. His final "Save Pau" plea came after last season, when he appealed to the higher-ups by saying, "I want Pau here. It's not even a question. It's not even a discussion."

Three months later, the Lakers lost him in free agency.

Gasol, 34, jumped to Chicago, a better roster in a weaker conference. His three-year, $22-million contract was $7 million less than the three-year deal the Lakers offered, though Gasol wanted to play for a championship contender and the Lakers' unsuccessful attempt to sign Carmelo Anthony didn't help their cause.

Despite the move from Redondo Beach to Lake Michigan, Gasol is never far from Bryant.

"It must be hard for him to lose most of the games, but they have a pretty new team — new faces, new coach, a lot to adjust to," Gasol said. "But they'll improve. As long as they don't beat us, it's good."

Gasol talked more specifically about Bryant in a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune.

"I take pride in our friendship. We've been through so much and accomplished great things together. But we also went through some tough times as well," he said. "So our bond and friendship has always prevailed. That's something we always will have."

Gasol and Bryant fought next to each other for three trips to the Finals and rebounded well after the first one ended in a 131-92 loss to Boston in 2008.

Gasol was fine on offense last season with the Lakers, averaging 17.4 points, but slow on defense and part of a public tug of war with former coach Mike D'Antoni about his desire to be in the post more often.

He averages 18 points and 11.4 rebounds for the Bulls and his two blocked shots per game are his most since he averaged 2.1 in 2006-07.

Better without Bryant?

Byron Scott seemed ready for the question. While the Lakers coach rested Bryant for the first time this season, the Lakers stunned first-place Golden State with a 115-105 victory Tuesday. At Scott's postgame news conference, reporters stumbled around the question, so Scott summed it up for them:

"What are you asking me? Are we better without Kobe, is that what you're trying to ask me?" he said.

Well, yes, the Lakers (9-19) had just knocked off the team with the NBA's best record (23-4) despite not having their star player, one reporter noted.

"So you are asking me that, so to speak?" said Scott, who quickly answered the question. "No. To the people that think that, no, there's no way. He's one of the best players that ever played in this game."

There's been endless talk this season that the struggling Lakers are too dependent on Bryant's shooting at the same time he is shooting a career-low 37.2% from the field.

With Bryant missing Tuesday, seven other Lakers scored in double digits. The Lakers also passed the ball 313 times, up from an average of 273 before the game, third-fewest in the league, according to ESPN.com via SportVU data.

Bryant is expected to return against Chicago, but "it shouldn't be any different" in how the team plays, Scott said. "Guys have to take it upon themselves to be aggressive and not look to him to bail us out."

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

james.peltz@latimes.com

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

Twitter: @PeltzLATimes

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