So. Many. Games. A busy Friday NBA schedule includes two ESPN games. First, Kobe Bryant plays point guard in his third game back from his Achilles injury, and he'll have to guard Russell Westbrook. In the late nationally-televised game, Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets visit the Golden State Warriors.
Here, we've sifted through the 13-game slate to help you decide what to watch.
The appetizers: Bobcats vs. Pacers
7 p.m. ET
Will there be an Indy hangover? The Pacers are 19-3 for a reason, but they'll need to fight human nature to attack the Bobcats just as they did the Miami Heat. On Tuesday, Indiana dropped their Eastern Conference rivals 90-84 and will need to jump on a defensive-minded Charlotte team early. Otherwise, the slow pace and sound defense of both teams could make it go down to the wire.
Wizards vs. Hawks
7:30 p.m. ET
The Wizards and the Hawks are slogging along so far, which only means they're right in the hunt in the Eastern Conference race.
Which X-factor gives their respective team a boost? Washington Wizards swingman Trevor Ariza has been a consistent scoring punch in the starting lineup. He's averaging 19.6 points in his last five games while shooting above 50 percent from the floor. Atlanta will need to get some point production from Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll and even the bench to keep up.
Reading material: At Bullets Forever, Mike Prada discusses how guard Bradley Beal's minutes should be handled when he returns from injury. Peach Tree Hoops dives into the Hawks with Good Win / Bad Loss ratings.
7:30 p.m. ET
Well, it's a New York and Boston rivalry!
Will pride be enough for the Knicks? Less than a week ago, the Celtics visited Madison Square Garden and left with a massacre of the Knicks on their hands. The 41-point loss for Mike Woodson's squad might be simple enough motivation to play well on Friday. If anything, that previous meeting set up the storyline for this one.
Reading material: Seth Rosenthal of Posting and Toasting gives us his thoughts on the rumor of New York looking to acquire Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry and what stands in the way of the Knicks pulling it off (*cough* Jim Dolan *cough*). Celtics Blog gets hypothetical about a trade idea between Boston and New York.
Nets vs. Pistons
7:30 p.m. ET
Will this be another springboard for the Nets? Brooklyn has won three in a row and is relatively healthy, though Brook Lopez is questionable after tweaking his ankle Thursday against the Clippers. Deron Williams' presence gives the Nets stability, and they could use this game to gain cohesion on both ends. Detroit has lost three in a row and despite its length up front has allowed opponents to score at least 110 points in each.
Reading material: In Nets Daily's preview of the game, we see a very red shot chart from Josh Smith. And Detroit Bad Boys writes about Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks calling out point guard Brandon Jennings' defense.
8 p.m. ET
Memphis and New Orleans are both banged up and fighting just to stay around .500.
How do the frontcourt defenses cover one another? Kosta Koufos and Zach Randolph will face the Pelicans big man duo of Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith, both of whom would love to stretch Memphis outside the paint. Smith is a deadly pick-and-pop threat from midrange while Anderson will force the Grizzlies to cover him beyond the three-point line. But on the other end, Randolph and Koufos would love to take New Orleans' frontcourt into the post.
The main course: Lakers vs. Thunder
8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Kobe Bryant hasn't won in two games since his return from a torn Achilles, and what a test he has in his third game back against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have won 12 of their last 13.
What does Kobe at point guard look like? The Lakers will be without Steve Blake for a good while, and that means Kobe Bryant will be forced to start at point guard. That could make things interesting in terms of Bryant scoring himself, but the bigger issue is on the defensive end. Yes, he'll be guarding Russell Westbrook:
Lakers about to play 4 games in 5 nights, Kobe playing point guard & Mike D'Antoni said he's going to have him guard Westbrook tonight...uh— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) December 13, 2013
Even if Bryant gets his, he'll need to get his teammates involved enough to give the Lakers some options to keep up with the Thunder's scoring:
Reading material: Silver Screen and Roll's C.A. Clark says that even though Kobe is back, the magic might be fading in Lakerland. Welcome to Loud City dolls out some weekly NBA awards, including Hasheem Thabeet getting in a selfie at the dentist office.
Side dishes: Timberwolves vs. Spurs
8:30 p.m. ET
If you remember, this game was supposed to be played in Mexico, but an electrical fire made this happen:
Mexico City Arena filled with smoke from possible electrical fire. pic.twitter.com/xYZnkGoNcQ— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 5, 2013
Can the T-Wolves stop the Spurs' passing attack? San Antonio plays somewhat fast, and it leads the NBA at 25 assists per game. And while Minnesota is seventh in defensive rating by giving up just 102.6 points per 100 possessions, the T-Wolves are second-worst in the league in opponent effective field goal percentage -- they can't defend the rim or the three-point line. Something needs to change for them to stop San Antonio.
Reading material: Canis Hoopus takes a peek at Minnesota's four factors and why it hasn't led to more wins, while Pounding the Rock previews the game.
Kings vs. Suns
9 p.m. ET
Rudy Gay is set to make his Kings debut against the Suns in Phoenix, and this could be quite a game considering the two previous meetings between the two teams. Sacramento won both high-scoring affairs.
What does Sacramento's new rotation look like? With Derrick Williams and Gay on the roster, Kings coach Mike Malone will be adjusting his rotation on the fly, and that could risk the rhythm of the offense. Considering the year's history between the Suns and Kings, plus the athleticism on both sides, this game at the least will contain some highlight-worthy dunks.
Reading material: Bright Side of the Sun's Kris Habbas wonders if Phoenix can finally beat a bad team. Sactown Royalty checks in on the progress of the team's new arena plan.
The dessert: Rockets vs. Warriors
10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Houston is on the second night of a back-to-back, but did beat Golden State by 22 points a week ago.
Who shows some moxie? Houston must recover from a tough loss on Thursday to Portland in which the Rockets held the Blazers to 44-percent shooting and outscored them 66-36 in the paint. And Houston needs to fix this bad body language:
Meanwhile, the Warriors can make a statement by winning and playing with more consistency than they have been. They got blown out 105-83 to Houston on Dec. 6, since beat Memphis and Dallas, but gave up 115 points in a loss to the Bobcats. And nobody should give up 115 points to the Bobcats.
Reading material: A big chunk of Golden State's recent issues have to do with the loss of forward Andre Iguodala, and Golden State of Mind breaks down what is missing without him.
Pass on it: Cavaliers vs. Magic
7 p.m. ET
Cleveland has won four games in a row at home, but is 1-10 on the road coming into a visit to Orlando.
What does the Magic frontcourt look like? Andrew Bynum and Anderson Varejao could potentially get a look at a healthy Orlando frontline. Tobias Harris could be available after his lingering issues with a high ankle sprain, according to the Orlando Pinstriped Post. The Magic's depth is building.
Reading material: Conrad Kaczmarek of Fear the Sword discusses a rumored Omer Asik trade for the Cavs' Varejao.
76ers vs. Raptors
7 p.m. ET
The 76ers have won just one game on the road, and Toronto could get a spark from its new acquisitions.
Does Terrence Ross continue to get opportunities? With the infusion of John Salmons into the Raptors' plans, Ross, the second-year shooting guard, will again take a backseat after filling in as a starter and scoring double-figures in the last few games. Likewise, how coach Dwane Casey splits the minutes at point guard between Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez will be something to watch.
Reading material: Raptors HQ delves into the Lowry trade rumors and looks at what works in Toronto and beyond.
8:30 p.m. ET
The Bulls have lost to the Knicks, Bucks and Pistons in their last three games, and the Bucks are 2-9 at home.
Does offense happen? Chicago has the fourth-worst offensive rating of 99.7 points per 100 possessions and Milwaukee comes in dead last at 96.8 points per 100 possessions. If this actually becomes a high-scoring game, we'd be this surprised:
Reading material: Brew Hoops looks to stay positive by looking at John Henson's defensive on-off statistics. And are the Bulls emotionally breaking? Blog a Bull takes a stab at finding the answer.
9 p.m. ET
Denver is coming off a 75-74 win against Washington that said something about their defense down the stretch. It's bad news for the Jazz, though Ty Corbin's team has been pesky at times despite a 5-19 record.
Can Utah's big men hang? The Nuggets beat the Jazz 100-81 in the teams' first meeting by running Utah off the floor with a 30-13 fourth quarter. If Denver pushes the pace, it'll be hard for Utah's big frontcourt to keep up.
Reading material: SLC Dunk tells us with statistics why Gordon Hayward is the man, and Nate Timmons of Denver Stiffs gets to know Darrell Arthur.