Definitive Guide to Raptors vs. Lakers and Sunday's NBA Action
As if his return following a torn Achilles needed any more hype, the LA Lakers' official Facebook page released a video called "Seasons of Legend" that pegged Bryant's return date with the words, "THE LEGEND CONTINUES... DECEMBER 8."
Fittingly, the legend will continue against the Toronto Raptors, the team on which he dropped 81 points in 2006.
That game has drawn the most hype, but the matchup featuring the best teams will be in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder are taking on the Indiana Pacers.
Paul George has launched himself into the realm of the NBA's truly elite this year as a two-way threat who can dominate both ends of the floor. He'll have his hands full trying to cover Kevin Durant Sunday.
Elsewhere, Dwight Howard will take on his former Magic team, though not in Orlando. The Miami Heat will have a chance to avenge a recent loss to the Detroit Pistons. And Eastern Conference juggernots (the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Celtics and New York Knicks) will square off in the Big Apple.
Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks, 12 p.m. ET
Miami Heat vs. Detroit Pistons, 6 p.m. ET
Indiana Pacers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 7 p.m. ET
Toronto Raptors vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 9:30 p.m. ET
Best Matchup of the Night: Toronto Raptors vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The number of minutes Kobe will play has been a big part of the discussion since his return was announced.
According to ESPN's Dave McMenamin, Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said, "I think he'll be limited by his wind and ability to be able to take the pounding. So, I would be surprised if more than in the twenties. It shouldn't be any more than that."
Kobe may not play a ton of minutes against the Raptors on Sunday, but he'll undoubtedly be the main attraction, name on the marquee, you get the picture.
Assuming Bryant starts, Toronto's DeMar DeRozan will likely get the first crack at defending him. DeRozan isn't known as a lockdown defender and isn't used to defending opposing 2s in the post, where Kobe's done a lot of his damage over the last few years.
It should be fun to see him inside this season, as he'll be surrounded by one of the best three-point shooting groups in the NBA.
Not that Kobe is known for kicking it out from the post, but opposing defenses won't be able to leave players like Jodie Meeks, Steve Blake and Wesley Johnson alone outside.
That should give Kobe more space in which to operate Sunday against the Raptors. Basketball fans around the world can't wait to see what he does with it.
Must-See Individual Matchup: Paul George vs. Kevin Durant
You know the whole unstoppable force meets an immovable object thing? Yeah, that's Kevin Durant and Paul George Sunday.
Durant leads the league in scoring at 28.5 points a game. George is one of the best defensive wings in the NBA. The two small forwards will be head-to-head in OKC.
One of Durant's best weapons is his size as a wing. He's listed at 6'9", but his pre-draft measurements had him at 6'10.25" with shoes and a 7'4.75" wingspan. And those measurements were taken when he was just 19. At some angles, he looks taller than his teammate Serge Ibaka, who's listed at 6'10".
The difficulty for George, then, is finding a way to bother a player who's a couple of inches taller and five inches longer in terms of wingspan.
If anyone can do it, it would be George. And he won't be alone.
The dynamic perimeter defender does a great job of staying in front of opposing wings without fouling. And on the rare occasions when he's beaten, George has the best help defense in the league behind him.
The Pacers have a league-best defensive rating of 91.6 and are anchored by one of the best rim protectors in the NBA in Roy Hibbert. That might cause Durant to think about taking more jump shots.
George isn't just a defensive specialist either. He's fourth in the league in scoring at 24.7 points a game, and he's coming off a 28-point performance against the Spurs in which he went 4-of-4 from three-point range.
Who Has the Most on the Line?
The Knicks have won two straight, but let's pump the brakes on any excitement over that. Those two wins came against the dreadful Brooklyn Nets and the rebuilding Orlando Magic. Combined, they're 9-26.
Before the back-to-back wins, The New York Post's Marc Berman reported:
The expiration date on owner James Dolan’s recent vote of confidence for coach Mike Woodson is approaching, according to sources.
While Woodson will coach the Knicks when they play the Nets on Thursday, it is unclear how much longer Dolan will allow this losing streak to go on. It has reached nine straight defeats and the team’s mental instability has become an issue. Dolan is obsessed with the Brooklyn franchise and a blowout loss could trigger changes — whether via trade or a coaching move.
As we now know, there was indeed a blowout loss Thursday, but it was the Nets that suffered it. That may have turned the burner down a notch on Woodson's hot seat, but it shouldn't be off.
Woodson is a defensive specialist, and his Knicks have the eighth-worst defense in the NBA based on defensive rating. That shouldn't be seen as entirely Woodson's fault since some of the Knicks are notoriously bad on that end and Tyson Chandler has been out for most of the season.
But as the coach, Woodson can't completely escape the blame.
The Celtics are 24th in the NBA in points per game, and if the Knicks give up another big offensive performance Sunday and lose ground in the Atlantic Division, things might heat up again.
Some of the big names who are currently dealing with injuries:
According to Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun, "Hansbrough sprained his left shoulder in Friday’s loss and had an MRI on Saturday. The team will map out his immediate future Sunday, but it’s likely he’ll miss time."
Los Angeles Lakers
Nash's status for Sunday, and for the rest of his career for that matter, is completely up in the air. According to the Los Angeles Times' Ben Bolch, Nash said, "I might not be able to play anymore, I might have to yo-yo it or I might be able to play the rest of the way."
According to USA Today's Adi Joseph, "Point guard Jordan Farmar will miss about four weeks after tearing his left hamstring, the Lakers announced Monday afternoon."
From Boston.com's Gary Dzen, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said, "I don't think he's close. I don't think it's gonna happen in the next few weeks. We're not on pins and needles about it. We're being very cautious with Rondo. He's still got a little bit of a limp. He needs to get his strength back."
Olynyk is dealing with an ankle injury, and his coach Brad Stevens doesn't think he'll be playing against the Knicks. The Celtics Twitter account quoted Stevens: Olynyk "told me he's feeling a little better but I don't know exactly what that means. I know he won't be playing tomorrow."
New York Knicks
On November 29, ESPN New York's Paul Willis reported, "Coach Mike Woodson said at Friday’s shootaround that his starting center could be back in about two weeks."
Lin's been dealing with a knee injury but took a big step forward in his rehab. According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, Lin looked good in a shooting session on Thursday.
According to Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star, Danny Granger practiced for the Pacers Friday.
Granger said, "(The Pacers' trainers are) kind of holding me back and I think they know best. If it was up to me, I'd be playing but like I said, they know best. That's just me talking from my competitive side. I practiced today so obviously I'm not far away."
Pop-in Potential: Miami Heat vs. Detroit Pistons
Any time LeBron is playing, the game has pop-in potential.
Especially when he's up against a team that beat his just five days ago. That's exactly what happened when the Heat lost to the Pistons 107-97 in Miami.
The Heat got things going in the right direction against the Timberwolves Saturday—a game in which James scored 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished eight assists in 31 minutes.
Had he played the fourth quarter, he almost certainly would've wound up with a triple-double.
For Sunday's game, throw in new human highlight reel Andre Drummond for the Pistons and the fact that the Heat will have payback on their minds, and you have a formula for a pretty entertaining game.
If you're like me, barely trailing heading into the last day of the week's matchups, you'll want to make sure you have everyone in with only five games on the schedule and hope the big names go off.
The Big Guns
Drummond is a double-double machine, averaging 13.3 points and 12.9 rebounds a game while shooting 63 percent from the field.
Against a soft Miami front line led by Chris Bosh, he's almost guaranteed to go off. The only thing that might stop him is foul trouble.
Melo is another big name with a favorable matchup.
Brandon Bass has a hard time covering quicker power forwards, and Anthony is even more of a headache since he's really a small forward.
And scoring isn't the only thing Melo does these days. This season, he's been rebounding at a very high rate. He's posting a team-high 9.9 a game.
Terrence Jones is still available in over 40 percent of ESPN leagues, and it's kind of hard to see why.
There doesn't seem to be anyone threatening his job as the starting 4, and he's averaging 12.5 points and 8.2 rebounds in that role.
He should be able to get open plenty against Glen Davis of the Orlando Magic.
For 140-character pearls of wisdom from Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey, follow him on Twitter: @AndrewDBailey.