Can the Lakers handle the Bulls?

619146.png

Can the Lakers handle the Bulls?

The start of the NBA regular season is finally just hours away with the Bulls playing the Lakers in Los Angeles Christmas day. The Lakers though, may not be as ready as they hoped.

They're a team coming off a poor season, losing four games to Dallas last May and taken out of the Western Conference semifinals. Have things changed? Will they be true competitors Sunday? They're a year older that's for sure but are they wiser?

What's definitely changed is the coaching situation. Phil Jackson lost his last four games as the Lakers' coach and has been replaced by Mike Brown. Things didn't fare so well after the lockout when they had a deal in place to get Chris Paul. The NBA wouldn't approve the trade and the Magic took away their hopes of acquiring Dwight Howard. Can the guys catch a break?

Distractions have filled the air with Kobe Bryant that could have an affect on the court. Bryant's wife filed for divorce and he sustained a torn ligament in his right wrist, with both possibly clouding his mind and becoming a recipe for disaster. But will it?

Bryant missed the Lakers' final preseason game Wednesday but practiced Friday and is expected to play Sunday. Will we see the same performance as last season, or even worse with all of his off the court issues? Let's hope so.

Bryant, 33, averaged 25.3 points per game last season, his lowest total since 2003-'04.

Let's not forget that Andrew Bynum's four-game suspension could also put a damper on things when it comes to stopping Derrick Rose. Rose isn't really the unstoppable type anyway.

I'm not too worried about the Bulls. They're coming off a season with the best record in the NBA and the core of their team is healthy and intact.

The Bulls are shooting 45. 1 percent from the field with the Lakers at 42.9 while the Bulls also have a rebounding advantage of 44.5 to 40.8. May seem like minor differences but with a distracted Bryant, could this be costly to L.A.?

What do you expect Sunday? Who will come out on top?

Bulls hand Rajon Rondo one-game suspension

Bulls hand Rajon Rondo one-game suspension

The Bulls are suspending Rajon Rondo for one game.

The organization sent out a press release Monday morning with the announcement their point guard would miss Monday night's game against the Portland Trail Blazers for conduct detrimental to the team.

Rondo's history is littered with behavioral issues. 

[SHOP: Get your Bulls gear right here]

He was suspended by the NBA one game almost exactly a year ago for using a "derogatory and offensive term towards an official" as a member of the Sacramento Kings.

Rondo is averaging 8.2 points, 7.2 assists and 6.7 rebounds per game this season in 17 contests.

Bulls pass out Christmas gifts to Chicago youth on Sunday

Bulls pass out Christmas gifts to Chicago youth on Sunday

It was hard to tell who was more excited Sunday afternoon: the Bulls players or the 400 kids who stopped by the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry as the team passed out Christmas gifts for kids who reside in the Chicago family housing development.

Robin Lopez was carrying about Benny the Bull, much to the surprise and delight of many kids who were in attendance, while Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo took photos and passed out gifts to every child.

Rondo established roots in Chicago long before becoming a Bull, but has become entrenched in the months since signing with the franchise, being a part of the 17th annual holiday party.

“It’s definitely an honor. An honor to be a Bull,” Rondo said. “Since Day 1 when I got here I thought they were the best organization as far as giving back to the community, and it shows. They do it without hesitation.

“Very welcoming. The people have been great. The kids have been here since Day 1 supporting us as well. It’s very exciting.”

Bulls volunteers served lunch provided by Papa John’s, Coca-Cola and Edy’s Ice Cream, as the holiday party is one of the 30 events the Bulls are organizing as part of the team and NBA Cares’ “Season of Giving.”

“It’s no problem for any of us,” Lopez said. “Look at Raj, look at Jimmy, they’re having a blast out there. They’re having as good of a time as the kids out there.”

Being a California native, the newfound snowfall added to the atmosphere for Lopez.

“This really feels like Christmas,” Lopez said. “I can feel the spirit inside with the kids and the looks on their faces when they walk in and see the toys, they see Jimmy Butler and they’re so excited to be a part of it.”

Whether it was Barbie Dreamhouses, or Nerf basketball rims, the kids were ecstatic to see the Bulls and to pick out the toys being distributed by the Bulls’ stars.

“Very humbling. Over 400 kids. And every kid comes through all smiling and excited,” Rondo said. “Some of them don’t get toys all year and this time of year is about giving. I’m very humbled.”

Butler has been around Bulls Charities since being drafted in 2011, so although this is old hat, he hasn’t lost any of the spirit that comes with doing events like this year after year.

He posed with kids for photos and cracked jokes to the younger basketball fans.

“Feels good. I just like being here. It’s what this time of year is all about, seeing these kids smile,” Butler said. “I love kids, I love this city, I want everybody to be happy all the time. However I can make that happen, especially around Christmas and the holidays, I’ll do.”

Lopez is quiet to many who see him on the floor, but his eyes lit up around the kids and made Benny the Bull his personal prop by picking him up and carrying him through the museum.

“Every time I see it, it’s a wonderful feeling. To think I’m a small part of it, I can’t begin to describe it,” Lopez said. “Any opportunity I get to work with kids, that’s always easy yes in my book. I’m a big kid at heart. Any time I can go play, I’m in.

“It’s indescribable. I got so many great gifts as a kid, and blessed in so many ways. Just to be able to give back in any facet, that’s an easy yes.”

Sunday's event leads up to Monday's Chicago Bulls Charities Night at the United Center. The Bulls host the Portland Trailblazers at 7 p.m. on CSN.