Breaking Down Friday's NBA Preseason Matchups
In the NBA, the games that don't matter still matter.
Preseason contests may not have playoff implications or impact a team's regular-season standing, but they're a forum through which rotations are built and expectations are molded. They're also nifty previews for fantasy lovers out there, who are looking to monitor which players they should run with in their upcoming virtual drafts.
And, unlike the NFL, starters actually play for more than a second. Provided he's not injured (sorry, Andrew Bynum fans), your favorite player, or the one you love to hate, is going to play. There will be things to watch.
Friday night's NBA preseason lineup plays host to many intriguing storylines. A certain Italian scoring machine will be returning to the team that gave up on him, and a pair of obvious tankers will go head-to-head in the battle for who wants Andrew Wiggins the most. And, as you'll see below, there's so much more.
Friday Night NBA Lineup
Toronto Raptors vs. New York Knicks, 7 p.m. ET
Watch It On: NBATV Canada
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics, 7 p.m. ET
Orlando Magic vs. Cleveland Cavaliers, 7 p.m. ET
Watch It On: NBATV
Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats, 8:30 p.m. ET
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Utah Jazz, 9 p.m. ET
Check out what we're watching, then tell us which games and players you're most excited about in the comments section!
Note: All injury information was obtained from CBS Sports unless otherwise attributed.
Best Matchup of the Night: Toronto Raptors vs. New York Knicks
Preseason exhibitions rarely have a significant meaning, but the New York Knicks' bout against the Toronto Raptors is an exception.
Friday will mark Andrea Bargnani's first return to the AirCanada Centre since the Raptors traded him to the Knicks over the summer. To a lesser extent, this also Steve Novak's first time facing the Knicks as an opponent, since they helped him salvage his career two years ago.
"Bargs" was drafted first overall by the Raptors in 2006 and spent seven years in Toronto. Injuries limited him to just 66 combined games over the last two seasons. and by his tenure's end, fans had turned on him.
He had never lived up to his No. 1 status; the Raptors made the playoffs just twice with him on the docket, both times coming while Chris Bosh was still a member of the team.
Now Bargs comes to Toronto as a foe, looking to distance himself from the tainted reputation he built with Raptors.
Must-See Individual Matchup: Rudy Gay vs. Carmelo Anthony
Starters don't typically log heavy minutes in preseason bouts, but this is one matchup you won't want to miss, even if it's a relatively brief one.
Both Carmelo Anthony and Rudy Gay are coming off poor shooting performances in their previous exhibition game. Gay went 2-of-7 from the floor for 11 points in 20 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves, while "Melo" shot just 3-of-9 for seven points in 22 minutes against the Boston Celtics.
For Anthony, this marks the next step in his presumed return to small forward. Coach Mike Woodson appears bent on pairing him with Bargs, so Melo will have to re-adjust to spending time at the 3 after spending all of 2012-13 at the 4. How well he performs against Gay, on both ends of the ball, will help shape the direction New York's rotation is headed in.
Gay, meanwhile, continues to wage war against advanced-analytic gurus everywhere. He can become a free agent after this season, and I'm not entirely convinced that Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri won't try to trade him before then out of fear of him picking up his player option.
A great way to elevate his stock both on the trade and (potential) free-agency market is to become less of an erratic chucker and more of an economical scorer. Such a transition, if possible, begins now, before the regular season tips off.
Who Has the Most on the Line?
The Philadelphia 76ers.
Before arming yourselves with pitchforks and torches, understand that it's the preseason, and teams don't have anything on the line just yet.
Would the Charlotte Bobcats like Al Jefferson to torch the Miami Heat? Would Bargs like his former team, the Raptors, to lay their heads down with scorer's envy? Are the Portland Trail Blazers just hoping they get out of their game against the Utah Jazz in one piece?
Of course, but the Sixers are being put to the ultimate test. They're squaring off against a fellow tanker in the Celtics, in what is one of the first unofficial battles for favorable draft positioning.
Philly figures to be one of the worst teams in recent memory, but how poorly it does against a Rajon Rondo-less Boston squad will speak volumes about its ability to be the tank-iest tank job of them all.
Rajon Rondo, knee: No one's quite sure when he'll return. General manager Danny Ainge suggests December, per ESPN's Chris Forsberg. Boston's apparent tanking efforts imply otherwise.
Andrew Bynum, knee: If and when he does return, it will be a rare sighting. He'll probably even look out of place on the court. Think polar bear holding a Coke and on the loose at your local mall.
New York Knicks
J.R. Smith, knee: He's still recovering from knee surgery and inevitably will serve a five-game suspension, not a hangover.
Amar'e Stoudemire, knee: Don't be surprised if he misses the entire preseason and then some.
Portland Trail Blazers
Nicolas Batum, concussion: Batum missed Portland's previous game against the Phoenix Suns with a concussion. Coach Terry Stotts was unsure if he would play against the Jazz.
Pop-in Potential: Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic will be fun to watch this season, so you'd be wise to check them out now if possible.
What with Victor Oladipo projected to contend for the Rookie of the Year award, Tobias Harris looking to prove his time in Orlando last season wasn't a mirage and Nikola Vucevic helping Magic fans forget about Dwight Howard one double-double at a time, this team is a sleeper.
No, the Magic won't be contending for any playoff spots. Not even the Eastern Conference is that forgiving. But their core three figure to be an interesting follow as they continue to develop alongside one another.
In Orlando's first preseason game, Oladipo, Harris and Vucevic combined for 44 points. If that becomes a familiar sight this season, the Magic are going to surprise some people.
Also, they go up against the Cavs on Friday night, meaning we will see some Oladipo on Kyrie Irving action. And since I know you're smart, you'll tune in to see it go down.
Research for your fantasy leagues begins now. Right now.
The preseason helps set the tone for fantasy drafts everywhere, as it clues you in on which stars are still at the top of their game and which sleepers you should keep your eye on for later rounds.
The Big Guns
Harris is going to be a strong option all season in Orlando. Not only did he drop 17 points in the Magic's preseason debut, but he grabbed nine rebounds as well.
Going up against a Cavaliers team that will likely be experimenting with an array of different lineups and barely have the manpower to lock up Vucevic, Harris is a double-double threat in limited playing time.
Charlotte will be squaring off against the Heat, who are fresh off a Thursday night win over the Detroit Pistons. Miami is small as it is, and knowing Coach Erik Spoelstra, he'll barely play his starters, if he plays them at all.
Assuming that's the case, Jefferson should be primed for a double-double, needing no more than 22-24 minutes to notch it. Against a diminutive Heat lineup, he should have no trouble swatting some shots away either. He sent back two in his Bobcats debut against the Atlanta Hawks.
Even if Spoelstra lets the Big Three out of their cages, "Jeffy Jeff" will still be effective. Chris Bosh can't stop him, and let's face it: He's Charlotte's low-post lifeline (my apologies, Cody Zeller).
Gordon Hayward isn't going to be a fantasy sleeper much longer. The sleeper section is where he's resided for roughly two years now, but 2013-14 has breakout year written all over it.
Hayward plays for a tanking Jazz team—they traded for Andris Biedrins, so yes, they're tanking—and coach Tyrone Corbin already plans to use him as more of a point forward. With the ball in his hands and now the No. 1 option after the departures of Paul Millsap and Jefferson, he's someone to keep an eye on. Especially on Friday.
Starters don't normally play big minutes in the preseason, but Hayward, 23, is at the age where he'll see extended time. And he'll be seeing it against a battered Blazers team, which will likely be without Batum.
Expect Hayward to post big numbers in anticipation of a monstrous individual season.