Two of the NBA's best big men clash Friday on ESPN when Roy Hibbert's Indiana Pacers face Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets. The schedule includes eight other games, and ESPN's late game will involve the Lakers potentially playing the Timberwolves without a single point guard on the roster and without Kobe Bryant.
The appetizers: Jazz vs. Hawks
7:30 p.m. ET
Can Teague put a rookie in place? Utah point guard Trey Burke is coming off a career-high 30-point game in a win against the Orlando Magic. That means its on Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague to remind the rookie that one game does not make a career.
Bobcats vs. Pistons
7:30 p.m. ET
Both teams enter Friday with two wins in a row, the Bobcats earning those victories behind their impressive defense and the Pistons doing so with many points in the paint.
Will Charlotte keep it in the halfcourt? Al Jefferson isn't going to be running with Andre Drummond, after all. Charlotte will need to pack the paint and trust Kemba Walker to contest Brandon Jennings' perimeter attempts. The Pistons will put dunks atop the Bobcats' heads if they get into the open court off bad shots or turnovers, so Steve Clifford's team had best go at a snails pace. It's not like Detroit has the most efficient halfcourt offense anyway.
Kings vs. Heat
7:30 p.m. ET
Will Sacramento allow Miami to do what they do? The answer is probably "yes," because not many teams can stop the Heat from their patented second-half bursts. Additionally, the Kings have seemingly given in to every other team's ways of late. The Hawks did as they pleased and shot 58 percent for the game in a 124-107 win over the Kings on Wednesday, and the game before that, the Charlotte Bobcats used their stingy defense to drop Sacramento, 95-87.
The main course: Rockets vs. Pacers
8 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Rockets catch the Pacers coming off a loss to the Miami Heat and on a two-game losing streak. Frank Vogel's team could be grumpy:
Which X-factor makes the biggest difference? Indiana and Houston matchup well with Roy Hibbert going at Dwight Howard at center and James Harden and Paul George battling it out on the perimeter. But can David West push around young forward Terrence Jones? Can Chandler Parsons or Patrick Beverley give the Rockets a boost?
But really, how do the points in the paint work out? Houston is the second best two-point shooting team in the league at 53.7 percent, but Indiana only allows opponents to hit 43.5 percent of their twos. Parsons, Harden and Jones will need to knock down open threes in the flow of the offense to make up for the Pacers' interior defense making it tough to score at the cup.
Side dishes: Raptors vs. Magic
8:30 p.m. ET
The Raptors have showed they're more apt to pass the ball since dealing Rudy Gay, but it won't be easy at Dallas, where the Mavs are 11-2 at home.
Will Monta have it all? It's not hard to fathom Dallas guard Monta Ellis putting in a big game. Toronto has been starting second-year guard Terrence Ross, and he'll need some help to stop the Mavs' shooting guard. Ellis is scoring 20.7 points per game and continues to hit at a respectable 46.7-percent clip. Toronto could counter with Kyle Lowry on Ellis if need be.
Suns vs. Nuggets
9 p.m. ET
The two 14-10 teams face off in what is, as of Friday, a battle for the final two Western Conference playoff seeds.
Who can go more, more fast? Ty Lawson was battling a flu as of Thursday night, and his status is in question. The Phoenix Suns aren't pushing the pace as much as they could, but they have the horses to get caught up in a high-octane affair in the Mile High City. Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic aren't exactly sluggish. More fast. MORE.
The dessert: Timberwolves vs. Lakers
10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Who starts at point guard for Los Angeles? Hello? Hello? Kendall Marshall will be walking through that door sooner or later, but for a game against Minnesota, Mike D'Antoni and company may have to play it by ear:
7 p.m. ET
The last time these two squads met, there was a lot of scoring. Unfortunately for the Sixers, the Nets had 36 more of those scorings on Monday.
Will the 76ers plug their defensive holes a tad? Both Brooklyn and Philly are allowing more than 109 points per 100 possessions and thus are in the bottom-three in the NBA's defensive ratings. The 76ers, however, are dead last by allowing opponents to shoot an effective field goal percentage of 52.3 -- that takes into account threes being worth more.
7:30 p.m. ET
Two no-so-great teams clash in Cleveland, and one is mighty injured. That'd be the Bucks, but the Cavs could also be without Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, who are game-time decisions, according to The Plain Dealer.
Do the Bucks get bench points? Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 10 points but fouled out in his first game as a starter, a double-overtime loss to the Knicks. It's the holidays and all, but wins don't often get gift-wrapped like that one -- Milwaukee just needs to take advantage of whatever luck comes its way: