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 Phil Jackson lost his last four games as the Lakers' coach and has been replaced by Mike Brown.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?