Definitive Guide to Pacers vs. Thunder and Sunday's NBA Action
There are only five games on Sunday's NBA slate, but they certainly don't lack for intrigue.
A dynamic East-West showdown between the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder headlines the night's action, but come 9:30 p.m ET, all eyes will be on Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers as the five-time champion takes the floor for the first time since tearing his Achilles.
So while there may not be eight or 10 games for fans to navigate, Sunday night has the potential to be one of the most memorable of the season thanks to the development of several major storylines.
Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks, 12 p.m. ET
Miami Heat vs. Detroit Pistons, 6 p.m. ET
Orlando Magic vs. Houston Rockets, 7 p.m. ET
Indiana Pacers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 7 p.m. ET
Toronto Raptors vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 9:30 p.m. ET (NBA TV)
All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless noted otherwise.
Best Matchup of the Night: Indiana Pacers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Sunday night's matchup between the Indiana Pacers (18-2) and Oklahoma City Thunder (14-4) will be billed as a meeting of powerhouses on either side of the ball—and rightfully so.
The Pacers lead the league in defensive efficiency and opponent's points per game, while the Thunder rank No. 11 in offensive efficiency and No. 6 overall in points per game.
And while the Thunder have been stout on defense as well, surrendering the league's fifth-fewest points per 100 possessions, the Pacers are head and shoulders above the competition on the defensive end.
As of Saturday night, the Pacers also ranked No. 1 in opponent's field-goal percentage, opponent's total three-pointers attempted and opponent's total threes made.
That could spell trouble for the Thunder, as they're not a particularly stout three-point shooting team to begin with, converting on just 33.4 percent of their attempts to date.
The good news for Scott Brooks' club is that it's yet to lose at home this season (9-0), surrendering just 97.1 points per game in those nine wins.
Oklahoma City swept the season series with Indiana last year and has won three straight at home against the Pacers.
Must-See Individual Matchup: Kevin Durant vs. Paul George
Two of the game's premier wings will lock horns when the Indiana Pacers travel to Oklahoma City for a battle with the Thunder.
George leads the Eastern Conference-best Pacers into Oklahoma City averaging 24.8 points per game on better than 47 percent shooting from the field and a career-best 41 percent from three. His 28-point performance on just 14 shots against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night was a sight to behold.
However, if the Pacers are to hand the Thunder their first home loss of the season, George's defense on the seemingly unstoppable Durant will need to be of the highest quality.
According to NBA.com's stats database, George's individual defensive rating currently sits at a staggering 89.5.
However, it's worth noting that Durant gave George fits when the two clashed last season.
In two contests against the Pacers during the 2012-13 campaign, Durant dropped in 30.5 points per game on 48.9 percent shooting while pulling down 8.5 boards a night. Conversely, George shot a paltry 30.8 percent from the field while averaging 12.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in 77 minutes against the Thunder last season.
With George a vastly improved player from a year ago, expect him to give Durant all he can handle on both ends of the floor.
Who Has the Most on the Line?
According to the man himself, Kobe Bryant will make his season debut on Sunday against the Toronto Raptors in a nationally televised contest on NBA TV at 9:30 p.m. ET after months of rehabilitation from a torn Achilles.
For the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant's return means an eventual offensive influx, although it may not come right away. It would be foolish to expect Bryant to return to his pre-injury self and play somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 minutes per game off the bat.
In fact, according to the Lakers' Twitter account, head coach Mike D'Antoni has said that he expects Bryant's minutes to run "somewhere in the 20s."
Nevertheless, Bryant's return should provide the Lakers with an immediate emotional lift.
"To hear he's coming back, it's definitely a positive influence for everybody," said Jodie Meeks, who Bryant could replace at shooting guard in the starting lineup, according to ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin. "We want to win this game tonight and Sunday will be a tough game, but with him back, we will play with a lot of confidence."
While Kobe's first game action since April won't tell us everything we need to know about the 35-year-old's game, the entire basketball universe will be waiting with bated breath to see if the Black Mamba can provide a spark for a Lakers team that ranks No. 17 overall in offensive efficiency.
It's also important to remember that Kobe historically feasts on the Raptors. According to ESPN, Bryant averages 28.3 points per game against the Raptors for his career, his second-highest average versus a single opponent.
Here's a look at some of the notable names who could miss Sunday's action due to injury.
Rajon Rondo (Knee)
According to The Boston Globe, Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge still believes point guard Rajon Rondo won't be back for a few weeks. In Rondo's absence, Jordan Crawford has manned the controls at the point, averaging better than five assists a night.
Chauncey Billups (Knee)
Detroit Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups is questionable to face the Miami Heat on Sunday night after missing nearly a month with left knee tendinitis. His last appearance came on Nov. 12 against the Golden State Warriors. According to Pistons.com's Keith Langlois, Billups feels he's close but is still a few days away from returning.
Omer Asik (Knee)
Jeremy Lin (Knee)
It was announced on Nov. 29 that Jeremy Lin was expected to miss at least two weeks with a Grade 1 knee sprain and contusion. Patrick Beverley will continue to see an increase in minutes with Lin sidelined.
Chandler Parsons (Back)
Chandler Parsons returned for Friday night's drubbing of the Golden State Warriors, but it was clear that he wasn't close to 100 percent as he shot 3-of-13 from the field and scored just eight points in the win. According to the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen, Parsons is day-to-day.
Danny Granger (Calf)
Danny Granger continues to be sidelined by a stained left calf that has given him trouble all season long. He's without a projected return date at this time.
Los Angeles Lakers
Jordan Farmar (Hamstring)
Steve Nash (Back, Hamstring)
Steve Nash was a very limited participant in practice this week but is doubtful for Sunday's matchup with the Toronto Raptors, according to ESPN L.A.'s Dave McMenamin.
Dwyane Wade (Knee)
The Heat have been hesitant to play Wade on the second night of back-to-backs due to lingering knee pains, so it's fair to chalk him up as questionable for this one.
New York Knicks
Tyson Chandler (Leg)
The Knicks center has been hesitant to put a timetable on his return, but was expected to miss roughly 4-6 weeks after suffering a non-displaced fracture to his right fibula.
Tobias Harris (Ankle)
The Magic forward continues to battle through a left high-ankle sprain, but is still without a timetable for return, according to Magic.com's John Denton. Glen Davis will continue to see added minutes with Harris out.
*Unless noted otherwise, injury information courtesy of CBS Sports.
Pop-In Potential: Miami Heat vs. Detroit Pistons
It was just six days ago that the Detroit Pistons defeated the Miami Heat 107-97 down on South Beach behind seven double-figure scorers, including Greg Monroe, who poured in 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
Not only will Sunday's matchup feature LeBron James looking to exact his revenge on Detroit for Tuesday's 10-point defeat, but fans will also have another opportunity to watch second-year stud Andre Drummond shine against an undersized Heat frontcourt.
When the Pistons and Heat dueled earlier this week, Drummond recorded the game's only double-double with 10 points and a game-high 18 rebounds.
According to Basketball-Reference, Drummond is the only player in the league currently averaging better than 13 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and one steal per game.
One of the keys for the Heat will be the availability of Dwyane Wade, who was given Tuesday night off in order to rest his knee. Miami's offense was in a noticeable funk without Wade, shooting a subpar 43.9 percent from the floor in the loss.
Considering Wade logged 32 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Saturday night's win, it's hard to imagine that Erik Spoelstra will roll him out there on the second night of a back-to-back.
Fantasy Stock Watch
There are only 10 squads in action on Sunday, but that doesn't mean your fantasy team won't be able to make a last-minute run and secure a victory this week.
With several game-changing superstars taking center stage to cap off yet another thrilling week of NBA action, we've got a primer of which big guns you should absolutely plug into your lineup as well as a sleeper pick who could help push your team over the top.
The Big Guns
If you swapped Kevin Durant out of your lineup because he was idle on Saturday, you'd be wise to insert him into a starting spot as soon as possible.
Not only does Durant lead the league in scoring, but he's also shooting 46.4 percent from the field, 36.6 percent from three and 88.1 percent from the charity stripe.
A matchup with the league's best defensive squad in the Indiana Pacers figures to be a tall task for Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, but it would be foolish to discount the league's premier shooting wing on any night, much less on one when he's playing in front of a home crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
And with Durant averaging career highs in rebounds (8.2) and free-throw attempts (10.8) per game, he could prove to be the sort of game-changer owners need on Sunday evening.
A perfect storm could be brewing for Arron Afflalo and the Orlando Magic on Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Although the Magic were slaughtered by the New York Knicks on Friday, Orlando shot a cool 40 percent from beyond the arc, with Afflalo contributing 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting.
Entering Sunday night, Afflalo ranks as the league's 10th-highest scorer, averaging 22.4 points on 49 percent shooting and 46 percent shooting from three.
Against a Rockets defense that grades out as the league's seventh-worst when it comes to opponent's points per game (101.8), Afflalo will have a chance to exploit a porous Houston perimeter defense time and again when the two teams square off at Toyota Center.
The Deep Sleeper
The Detroit Pistons wing has been on fire in December, averaging 12.7 points on 52.2 percent shooting as of Saturday night. And according to ESPN, Kyle Singler is currently owned in fewer than 1 percent of all leagues.
It's been a productive week for Singler and the owners who took a shot on him in the deepest of leagues, as he torched the Miami Heat for 18 points on 60 percent shooting and five boards this past Tuesday and followed that up with a 15-point outing against the Milwaukee Bucks, hitting on five of his six field-goal attempts.
With his confidence building, Singler is worth a look for those of you in need of a solid plug-and-play option.