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Lakers Prepared To Open Season Christmas Day Against Chicago Bulls

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Harry How/Getty Images Sport

Harry How/Getty Images Sport

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) —  The Los Angeles Lakers will open their lockout- delayed season Sunday at Staples Center, facing the Chicago Bulls in their 13th consecutive Christmas Day game, with Kobe Bryant setting a record as soon as he takes the court.

This will be Bryant’s 14th Christmas Day game, the most in NBA history, breaking a tie with former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, Earl Monroe and Dolph Schayes.

Bryant smiled when a reporter told him after today’s practice at the Toyota Sports Center that he would set the record Sunday.

“Wow,” Bryant said. “That’s pretty cool. I’m very fortunate.”

While then-Laker coach Phil Jackson said last year that the increase in Christmas Day games from two to five showed “it’s like the Christmas holidays don’t mean anything to them anymore. Just go out and play and entertain the TV (audience),” Bryant called playing on Christmas great.

“The older you get, the more you appreciate it,” said Bryant, whose 321 points on Christmas Day games is second-most in NBA history behind Oscar Robertson’s 377.

“It’s fun. There’s only a certain amount of games that are slotted to play that day and you’re fortunate to be a part of it. The truth of the matter is we’ll all miss it when we’re not here anymore, so you really want to enjoy it while you can.”

Guard Derek Fisher said “you have mixed emotions from a family standpoint” about the Lakers’ annually playing Christmas Day games.

“It would be obviously be better on a personal level to spend time with your kids and family and maybe be around the family table watching somebody else play,” Fisher said.

“But at the same time, for myself and a lot of our guys know how fortunate of a position we’re in to be one of the marquee teams fans around the world like to see on Christmas Day.

“Your grow up watching big-time pro sports on television on holidays and that’s all you want to be when you’re 8 years old is that guy on TV and now you’re one of those guys. You have to be able to take that with you.”

The other two major North American professional sports leagues whose seasons include Christmas have far more restrictions about playing on Christmas than the NBA.

The NFL’s practice is to avoid playing on Christmas Day and the night of Christmas Eve, Greg Aiello, the league’s senior vice president of communications, told City News Service.

With Christmas falling on a Sunday this year, the NFL played 13 Saturday afternoon games, instead of Sunday afternoon, and one game on Sunday night. The National Hockey League’s collective bargaining agreement with its players’ association forbids games from being played on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, said John Dellapina, its vice president of communications. Teams are also not permitted to practice or travel on either day.

Fisher, the president of the National Basketball Players Association, the union representing the league’s players, said there was no discussion about restricting play on Christmas Day during the recently completed negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

“In our sport, because of how long the season is, to get into trying to single out particular holidays would be tough to do,” Fisher said. “We haven’t heard enough from a high number of our players that it’s a big issue.

“By and large, all the guys would love to be able to spend the holidays with their families. I think they respect there are certain things that come with this profession and working on holidays is one of those things. If it becomes an issue in the future, we’ll try to deal with it accordingly.”

During a span where they won five NBA championships, the Lakers are 4-8 in their last 12 Christmas Day games, including losses to Miami and Cleveland the past two seasons.

“There’s not a special focus on Christmas Day in terms of the game itself,” Fisher said.

“You see all the banners on the walls. You don’t win those banners on Christmas Day. Being 4-8, although it may be disappointing in the moment, we got a banner five times. I’ll take a Christmas Day loss for a championship trophy any day.”

The game marks the debut of Mike Brown as the Lakers’ coach.

“Just being here is special,” said Brown, named in May to succeed Jackson, who retired at the conclusion of last season.

“I thank my lucky stars and Dr. (Jerry) Buss, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak every day,” Brown said, referring to the team’s owner, a son who is its executive vice president, player personnel and general manager.

“To me, this is a dream job. To be able walk in this building, work with these guys, let alone coach them… you couldn’t ask for anything better.”

When asked how important Sunday’s game was, Brown responded, “It’s important from the standpoint that it’s our next one, but does it define who we are? No, it doesn’t.

“It definitely helps us get a better feel every time we step out on the floor, especially every time we step on the floor against a different color jersey, it helps us figure who we are a little better.

The Lakers will be playing without starting center Andrew Bynum, who will be beginning a four-game suspension for his flagrant foul on then-Dallas point guard J.J. Barea in the Lakers’ final game last season.

Pau Gasol, usually a forward, will start at center, while recent free agent singee Josh McRoberts will start at Gasol’s power forward position.

The Lakers are also making a second change to their starting lineup with Devin Ebanks replacing Metta World Peace (the player formerly known as Ron Artest) at small forward.

 (©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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