In years past, LeBron James versus Kobe Bryant meant the two best players in the NBA going toe to toe.
On Thursday, both Bryant and James have only just returned from extended time away. Bryant sat six of the last 12 games in an attempt to regain control of his fatigued body. James missed eight of the last night nine games with knee and back issues.
On his return, James immediately returned to his throne as the best player on the court with 33 points, seven rebounds and five assists in 37 minutes. But, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost that game.
In fact, the Cavs' super team has lost nine of its last 10 games, including a defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers. Suddenly, the Lakers' seven losses in their last 10 games don't look all that bad.
Hosting James and the struggling Cavaliers on Thursday night at Staples Center, LA had a few injury doubts. In a loss to the Miami Heat on Tuesday, Ronnie Price tweaked his elbow and Jordan Hill hyperextended his knee. Neither player practiced on Wednesday, but on Thursday morning, Lakers coach Byron Scott announced that both players would start.
Scott also confirmed that Bryant would start, so the Lakers will have their first-choice starting lineup on the court against the Cavs.
While Bryant and James dominate headlines, Kevin Love's return to LA also brings with it significant interest. The former UCLA Bruin has been linked with the Lakers constantly over the past few years, and fans of the purple and gold continue to hope for Cleveland to continue flailing. The hope would be that Love copies Dwight Howard's model and leaves a drama-filled failed super team and comes to LA for a shorter contract and slightly less money.
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While Love coming to LA may not be likely, fans at Staples Center on Thursday night will no doubt show the rangy forward plenty of love with the hopes to draw him back to LA.
Love, James and Bryant will all start when the Lakers and Cavaliers tip off at 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time.