The holidays are coming early this year, folks, and doing so in the form of the NBA's 13-game slate on Friday night.
Consider this that one present that your parents let you unwrap early. Only instead of one gift, you're getting 13. And this white-haired gift giver is NBA commissioner David Stern, a slimmed down St. Nick if you will.
So, which one will you open first? Here's the good thing—there is no wrong answer, no lump of NBA coal.
Maybe you're a blue-collar fan who enjoys the suffocating atmosphere around the Indiana Pacers defense. Or a patient Kyrie Irving supporter who can replay each of the 57 points he's scored over his last two games. Or a Brooklyn Nets fanatic finally flying high after some turbulent times.
Perhaps you prefer more of a West Coast palate. You're the kind of fan counting down the seconds until Kobe Bryant's first visit of 2013-14 to Chesapeake Energy Arena or Houston Rockets-Golden State Warriors Round 2.
No matter where your allegiances lie, just know that you're in luck with this fantastic Friday in the Association. This might be the season of giving, but it's OK to spoil yourself every now and then.
This is one of those times.
Friday Night's Lineup
Charlotte Bobcats vs. Indiana Pacers, 7 p.m. ET
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Orlando Magic, 7 p.m. ET
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Toronto Raptors, 7 p.m. ET
Washington Wizards vs. Atlanta Hawks, 7:30 p.m. ET
New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics, 7:30 p.m. ET
Brooklyn Nets vs. Detroit Pistons, 7:30 p.m. ET
Memphis Grizzlies vs. New Orleans Pelicans, 8 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Chicago Bulls vs. Milwaukee Bucks, 8:30 p.m. ET
Minnesota Timberwolves vs. San Antonio Spurs, 8:30 p.m. ET
Utah Jazz vs. Denver Nuggets, 9 p.m. ET
Sacramento Kings vs. Phoenix Suns, 9 p.m. ET
Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The last time these two teams met, the game was exciting for all of about 30 seconds.
The Rockets sprinted out to a 31-12 first-quarter lead and comfortably cruised to a 105-83 win on Dec. 6.
So, what will make this game any different?
Well, for one the setting has changed. The Warriors are hosting this matchup at Oracle Arena, a building that's seen seven Golden State wins and just two losses on the season.
Plus, Stephen Curry has been scalding hot of late. Even by his standards.
He turned in a 22-point performance the first time around but shot just five of 14 from the field, tossed out only five assists and coughed up eight turnovers in less than 33 minutes. In the three games since, he's averaging 32.7 points on 46.6 percent shooting, 11.3 assists and a troubling-but-not-as-brutal 4.3 giveaways.
"He's a great player and an all-time great shooter," coach Mark Jackson gushed about Curry, per Jordan Garretson of the Associated Press (via Yahoo! Sports).
The Rockets have a few great players of their own. James Harden and Dwight Howard combined for 57 points on Thursday—one more than they hung on the Warriors in that blowout win—but couldn't find enough help to avoid a 111-104 road loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
For all of the star power present here, though, it's the supporting casts that will decide the outcome. Neither the Warriors (13-10) nor the Rockets (15-8) can get by on their superstars alone in the jam-packed Western Conference.
Kobe Bryant has done a lot of different things over the course of his legendary 18-year career. Drumming up sympathy points hasn't often been one of them.
Friday night, though, could be the exception.
Thanks to a slew of backcourt injuries in L.A.—Steve Blake's the latest casualty with a torn ligament in his elbow that will cost him at least six weeks, via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times—the 35-year-old Bryant will now be manning the starting point guard duties for the foreseeable future.
Obviously, that throws a wrench in coach Mike D'Antoni's uptempo attack.
"We'll go bigger, slower...well, not slower, but we won't go as fast," D'Antoni said, via Bresnahan.
But that might not be the Lakers' decision to make. Not with track-star point guard Russell Westbrook welcoming them to Oklahoma City.
Like Bryant, Westbrook's 2012-13 campaign was closed by an injury. But the 25-year-old continues to distance himself from a pair of knee surgeries and has averaged 23.0 points on 48.5 percent shooting and 9.3 assists over his last four games.
Just thinking about Bryant chasing around Westbrook makes me tired.
But it makes me excited, too. This is still the Black Mamba we're talking about, surgically repaired Achilles and all.
Maybe his body won't let him get up for this matchup. But he's found a way to perform miracles before.
After weeks of stalled starts and missing pieces, the Brooklyn Express is finally rolling.
Following Thursday's 102-93 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, the Nets (8-14) are riding a three-game winning streak for the first time since the middle of April.
But it's far too early to start planning any victory parades.
The Pistons (10-13) are far from pushovers. The Nets should know this as they dropped a 109-97 loss to this same team inside the Barclays Center on Nov. 24.
Detroit's massive frontcourt—Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond—presents some logistical matchup problems for the opposition. But it was sparkplug scorer Rodney Stuckey who did the most damage (27 points, 10-of-16 shooting) the last time these teams met.
For the Nets to build on this recent success, they'll need Deron Williams to be special. At this stage in their careers, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are simply complementary pieces of the puzzle. Brooklyn's other building block, Brook Lopez, might not be there help D-Will (more on that later).
You could argue that Brooklyn's intra-city rival New York Knicks have more at stake, but getting the train rolling—in my opinion at least—isn't as hard as keeping it moving. Another loss would just be business as usual for the Knicks; it could be a momentum-killer for the Nets.
Both teams dug themselves massive holes to start the season. But unlike the Knicks, the Nets are actually climbing themselves out.
That climb cannot stop on Friday night. Not if this team wants to hold out hope for substantial success.
People don't often get everything on their holiday wish list. Friday night's schedule is no different.
Here are some of the notable names who might miss out on the action.
Rajon Rondo (Knee)
Rondo's still without a timetable for his return, per Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe. With reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week award winner Jordan Crawford playing the best basketball of his life, there's really no reason for Rondo to rush.
Brook Lopez (Ankle)
I wish this was a mistake, a sloppy rehash of old news. But Lopez's bothersome left ankle flared up again when the big man re-sprained it on Thursday, via ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo. He's officially questionable for Friday.
Derrick Rose (Knee)
Again, I wish this was a broken record and nothing more. But the former MVP won't be making his return before the playoffs at the earliest.
Luol Deng (Achilles)
You don't have to be a Bulls fan to want Deng back out on the floor. I wouldn't wish a repeat of the Bulls-Bucks 78-74 monstrosity from Tuesday on my worst enemy. Unfortunately, Deng said he doesn't know when he'll make his return, via ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell.
Ty Lawson (Hamstring)
Lawson said he still has to "make a decision" about playing on Friday, via Nuggets.com's Aaron J. Lopez. As much as I'd like to see him play, my eyes could use the break; his speed can give you headaches.
Golden State Warriors
Andre Iguodala (Hamstring)
Iguodala hopes he'll be back on the hardwood "really soon," per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). He's officially listed as questionable, but it feels like we already know the answer.
Danny Granger (Calf)
Granger sounds increasingly closer to making his 2013-14 debut, but he's still not quite ready. "I don't think I will (play) Friday," he said, via USA Today's Curt Cavin. The Granger vs. Lance Stephenson debate will have to be settled another day.
Marc Gasol (Knee)
Memphis' monster in the middle, and the superstar of the analytical world, is still sidelined with a sprained MCL. His most optimistic timetable still puts him another week or two away from hitting the hardwood.
New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis (Hand)
It will still be a while before the basketball gods give us back our favorite one-browed baller. He's looking at about another two to four weeks on his initial time frame.
New York Knicks
Tyson Chandler (Leg)
Chandler's still out with a fractured leg, but he's hoping to give Knicks fans a reason to celebrate before the calendar year is over. You know, assuming the team's 6-15 record isn't quite cutting for the fanbase.
Michael Carter-Williams (Knee)
*Unless otherwise noted, injury information used courtesy of CBS Sports.
For the life of me, I can't figure out what these Sacramento Kings are.
Is it a grisly accident waiting to happen? The makings of the "Best Show on Court: Vol. 2?"
We'll get our first hint at that identity when Gay (fingers crossed) makes his debut for the Kings on Friday. That look seemed like it was coming on Wednesday, but as of then, Greivis Vasquez was still awaiting medical clearance from the Raptors training staff to complete the transaction.
Assuming that process is now complete, the Kings should instantly emerge as can't-miss programming.
The talent in Sacramento is intoxicating. DeMarcus Cousins is a monster on the block. Isaiah Thomas has a second gear few players can match. Gay and Derrick Williams have to be considered one of the most intriguing forward tandems in the league, don't they?
But this isn't all about the Kings.
The Suns are one of the best shows that no one's watching. If Sacramento wants a track meet, Phoenix will be more than happy to oblige.
Eric Bledsoe is never more than 48 minutes from a ridiculous stat line. Gerald Green and rookie Archie Goodwin can soar to unbelievable heights.
So pop in for the beauty of these revamped Kings. Or the train wreck.
Then, stick around to find out just how good these Suns (12-9) really are.
If you're anything like me, you can shift all of your fantasy attention over to the hoops world since you didn't make your fantasy football playoffs.
Even if you fared better than me on the gridiron, though, there's still plenty of time to worry about your football roster later.
With 26 teams in play, basketball owners have some decisions to make.
So, here's some unsolicited—but hopefully appreciated—advice on where to turn.
The Big Guns
How many times is the Durantula not at the top of the opposition's scouting report?
Maybe the Lakers will still make him a priority. But I'd venture to guess that more time will be spent on how to protect Bryant—or any other non-point guard—from limiting Westbrook's production.
Look, you can game plan to stop KD and that still doesn't matter. The 25-year-old is pouring in a league-best 28.4 points a night; it turns out there's no good way to defend a lanky sharpshooter with tremendous athleticism.
The best thing about Durant, though, is that he'll help fill other categories. He's putting up 9.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.4 steals over his last nine games.
I don't see Mike D'Antoni finding the formula that eludes every other coach in the league.
We all know how good Curry can be when he gets on a roll.
Just ask his fantasy owners. The guy's been rolling for the last two weeks straight.
In his last nine games, he's averaging 30.5 points (with a .485/.432/.885 slash line), 9.0 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals. While Houston's Patrick Beverley is a good defender, I just don't think anyone can bother Curry at the moment.
This recommendation comes with a disclaimer. Wroten is a prime example of a feast-or-famine fantasy option.
But he is starting to feast with a little more regularity of late. Of his five 20-plus point outings this season, three have come in the Sixers' last four games.
During that stretch, he's also tracked down 6.5 rebounds and tossed out 5.3 assists. He's also played without Michael Carter-Williams at his side in those games.
If the Rookie of the Year front-runner is sidelined once again, Wroten's a no-brainer addition to your Friday night lineup.