POSTED: Dec 8, 2013 8:38 PM ET
• On any other night, the seven-player trade that caused Raptors second-leading scorer Rudy Gay to be pulled from the starting lineup about 2 ½ hours before tonight's game against the Lakers would dominate the pre-game discussion, but even that news couldn't overshadow the return of Kobe Bryant. The Lakers all-time leading scorer will begin his 18th season with the franchise six weeks later than normal after tearing his left Achilles tendon April 12 on the same floor at Staples Center. Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni will start Bryant at shooting guard with Jodie Meeks moving back to the bench, adding there's "no hard line" as far as the amount of minutes Bryant will play. It was on a Sunday night against the visiting Raptors nearly eight years ago that Bryant recorded his career-high 81-point game.
• The trade involving Gay, pending league approval, will reportedly also send Toronto backup center Aaron Gray and reserve forward Quincy Acy to Sacramento in exchange guards Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson and forwards John Salmons, and Chuck Hayes. The Raptors lose a player who averaged 19.4 points this season, but Gay was also shooting 38.8 percent from the floor after finishing at a career-low 41.6 last season following his trade from Memphis to the Raptors at the halfway point of the season. Gay's shooting percentage is the worst among the 22 players averaging at least 19 points this season. Still, Toronto coach Dwane Casey said Gay will be tough to replace. "It's never a good time to lose a star player, but you've got to roll with it," he said before the game. Look for Steve Novak and Landry Fields to get more playing time with the Raptors down two small forwards tonight.
• One of the intriguing matchups in tonight's game will be the individual battle between stars Kevin Durant of the Thunder and Paul George of Indiana. Both are playing at a high level, Durant leads the NBA in scoring (28.5 ppg) and George is 4th (24.8 ppg). Thunder center Kendrick Perkins told reporters "one thing I do love about the KD-Paul George matchup is that each time they guard each other. When we play Miami LeBron (James) and KD don't guard each other most of the time." Thunder head coach Scott Brooks also had high praise for George, "he's definitely a superstar in this league. That word gets thrown around a lot but he is one."
• As important as George has been to the Pacers progress, Indiana head coach Frank Vogel told us just before the game not to overlook Lance Stephenson, "His development has been just as important as Paul George's. I don't want to understate that."
• OKC is 9-0 at home, the Pacers are 9-2 on the road.
• Magic center Nikola Vucevic (sprained left ankle) will miss his third consecutive game Sunday, when Orlando enters the second half of its six-game road trip in Houston. Coach Jacque Vaughn said Vucevic is still unable to play through the lingering pain in his ankle, which means Orlando's starting lineup will consist of Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Victor Oladipo, Glen Davis and Andrew Nicholson for the second game in a row. "We'll use the guys that we have on hand and go at it," Vaughn said. "It makes it tough for us to rebound the basketball and ask some other guys to do some things that they normally may not. ... Our smalls have to rebound for us tonight."
• Coach Kevin McHale revealed that guard Jeremy Lin, who will sit out for the sixth straight game Sunday, is nearing his return to the Rockets' lineup. McHale said he thinks Lin will be available as soon as Thursday's tilt with the Trailblazers in Portland. "I think he'll play Thursday," McHale said. "The plan has been that all along. ... He seems to be running [more fluidly]. He ran pretty hard today and the day before."
• Dwyane Wade and Michael Beasley will sit out for the Heat tonight. It's a maintenance day for Wade to rest his balky knees, while Beasley is dealing with a tender hamstring. "Michael feels like he can go but hamstrings can be a little bit tricky," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We just want make sure to continue to strengthen and heal them and then reevaluate him tomorrow."
• The Pistons will play without top reserve Rodney Stuckey, who banged knees in Detroit's fourth straight victory Saturday in Chicago. Stuckey is diagnosed with a left patellar tendinitis. "We're going to miss Stuckey," coach Mo Cheeks said. "He's been such a vital part of us up to this point. We look to him to give us a spark off the bench, so it's going to have to be someone lese. We'll have to see who it is." Rookie Peyton Siva will be the top backcourt reserve, though Kyle Singler could move from small forward to shooting guard at times.