NBA viewing guide: Kobe Bryant's return, Thunder host Pacers


Kobe's back and two of the league's top teams square off on Sunday.

Drew Garrison and Tyler Lashbrook contributed to this piece.

There are five games on Sunday, with the Pacers and Thunder setting the stage and Kobe Bryant returning to the floor after eight months of rehabilitation. We've also got a Heat-Pistons rematch from a few days ago and some star power in the lesser games.


Indiana Pacers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

7 p.m. ET, FSIN, FSOK

A potential NBA Finals matchup to cap off Sunday evening? Yes, please. The Pacers versus the Thunder is League Pass gold and would be our main course if not for Kobe's return.

Indiana is on a ridiculous pace. Its 3-1 on its current road stretch against the Clippers, Blazers, Jazz and Spurs and 18-2 through the first 20 games. The Pacers defense is holding opponents to a tumultuous 94.5 points per 100 possessions and Paul George's hasn't cooled off from a hot start.

Oklahoma City has won nine of its last 10 games and sports the league's fifth-best defense and tenth-best offense, via Basketball-Reference. Kevin Durant is high on the MVP lists, and the bench combination of Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb is combining for 20 points, six rebounds and four assists per game.

Reading Material: The Pacers clutch offense has a different flavorHas Ibaka become any more independent as a scorer?

Main Course

Toronto Raptors vs. Los Angeles Lakers

9:30 p.m. ET, NBATV, TWSN, TSN2

Was there any doubt this would be the main course of the evening? Kobe Bryant is making his return to NBA action after tearing his Achilles and NBATV will be airing the Mamba's return. The Lakers have done a good job of protecting their record in his absence, getting off to a 10-9 start, but the team is still on the outside of the top-eight teams in the always-competitive Western Conference.

There are plenty of ways to go about discussing this game. Will the Lakers' defense handle the volume of shots being taken by DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay? Can the Lakers' roster filled with former busts continue surprising teams? But there's one real reason to watch this game; Kobe Bryant is back.

What will Kobe show us? It's impossible to project what we'll see out of Kobe Bryant in his first game since a career-altering injury. He completed his recovery in under eight months, right on target for the six-to-nine month window the Lakers initially placed on him. No matter who wins or loses, this will be remembered as the first game of the "Kobe comeback." What will be the lasting impression of Kobe's first game since that fateful night in the Bay Area.

Reading Material: Cherishing Kobe's returnRudy Gay, the lone crusader

Side dish

Miami Heat vs. Detroit Pistons

6 p.m. ET, SUN, FSD

Miami will have a chance to draw some revenge against a Detroit team that beat it just three days ago. That task won't be any easier on Miami, as it's the second game of a back-to-back, but that's a little less burdensome when LeBron James is on your team and you have the chemistry that comes with winning two straight championships.

The Pistons have hit a bit of a groove after a 4-8 start to the season. They've won their last four games and six of their last eight, with the last three wins coming on the road. The defense has jumped up to the top half of the league and the offense is maintaining about average.

The stigma against Miami is that size gives them the most trouble -- mostly because the Heat like to play small -- and Detroit is loaded up front. How will Miami counter Detroit's size? That's something to watch here.

Reading Material: LeBron to take the silver screenWhy this photo matters

Pass it on

Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks

12 p.m. ET, CSNE, MSG

This game is a bit too early for my tastes. There's plenty to do Sunday and, forgive me, I'll be freeing up my time for later. Get your laundry done and lunch packed for Monday while the C's visit Madison Square Garden. Oh, how times have changed.

Reading Material: How Good is Jeff Green?If Mike Woodson Does Get Fired, then What's Next?

Orlando Magic vs. Houston Rockets

7 p.m. ET, FSFL, CSH

We're pretty far removed from the Dwight Howard In Orlando Saga, so it's a little late if you're clinging on to that narrative. Orlando has hit a bit of a ceiling, though, losing its last four games and 11 of its last 14, while Houston is coming off a complete whopping of the Warriors. A betting man would take whatever the line is for the Rockets and run with it.

Reading Material: Should the Magic intentionally foul Dwight Howard?, Highlights of Houston's big win over Golden State

More from SB Nation NBA:

Garrison: Lakers can ease Kobe back into rotation

Kawhi Leonard’s leap to stardom put on hold

Ziller: Everything you need to know about Isaiah Thomas

The Hook: How to eliminate intentional fouls from the NBA

Deeks: When should NBA teams pay the luxury tax?

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