Gasol left the Lakers as a free agent this past summer, choosing to play with a contender in Chicago.
The Bulls have been dealing with a number of injuries, including Gasol's, playing through a chest contusion. Rookie Doug McDermott is out and Kirk Hinrich has been sidelined recently with a hamstring strain.
The more pressing matchup for the Lakers may not be anyone on the Bulls, but internally.
Can the Lakers play the kind of team ball that devastated the Warriors on Tuesday with Bryant in the lineup?
Bryant has always been a ball-dominant guard. Throughout his career, he's had tremendous success, but at 36, the veteran needs to rely more on his teammates.
The Lakers' roster isn't overflowing with talent, but as the team showed against Golden State, they can play.
Of course, going up against the defensive-minded Bulls won't exactly help the Lakers ease into Bryant's return. Chicago gives up 98.9 points a game while scoring 103.0 a night.
The Lakers manage 102.6 offensively but yield 109.1, most in the NBA.
The Bulls shucked Carlos Boozer's contract over the summer, via their one-time amnesty provision. The forward has since been demoted to the bench with the Lakers, where he's found a positive role to help the team.
Boozer led the Lakers with 18 points and nine rebounds against the Warriors. He'd love to give his old team a difficult time on Thursday.
Butler is Chicago's leading scorer this season, at 21.7 points a game. He should be the front runner for the NBA's most improved player award.
Much is made of Bryant's high volume of shot attempts, but where he really needs to help the Lakers most is on the defensive end.
The Lakers played arguably their best game of the season without Bryant. Can they duplicate that effort with their star player back on the court against a tough Chicago team?
Put the Bulls down for the Christmas Day win.