Lakers at Chicago Bulls preview

The Lakers, fresh off their upset over the Golden State Warriors, play the Chicago Bulls on Christmas Day

The Lakers (9-19) upset the Golden State Warriors (23-4) on Tuesday night at Staples Center, despite playing without Kobe Bryant, who sat out to rest his tired legs.

On Christmas Day, the Lakers will visit Pau Gasol and the Chicago Bulls (19-9), one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

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 Lakers are still down Xavier Henry (Achilles), Ryan Kelly (hamstring), Steve Nash (back) and Julius Randle (leg).  The Kings will be without Andrew Bogut (knee). 

Key matchup

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.

Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Gasol are a strong trio inside defensively.  Jimmy Butler is an aggressive perimeter defender who will hound Bryant most of the night.

X factor

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.

Coach Byron Scott may put forward Wesley Johnson on Butler.  Bryant would presumably draw Mike Dunleavy while Ronnie Price has the difficult job of staying in front of Derrick Rose.

Outlook

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.

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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