Check out our free NBA picks for the Raptors vs. Lakers game

Swinging Johnson

Sunday, December 8, 2013 4:46 PM GMT

The legendary Kobe Bryant returns to the hardwood to make his season debut while the Raptors try to snap a four-game slide but which of these sides makes sense to back in our NBA picks tonight?

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Toronto Raptors (6-12 SU, 7-11 ATS)

The Raptors are reeling but the last time they visited the Staples Center in March of last season they kept it close to get the cover as 7 ½ point dogs in NBA odds but not enough to get the outright victory as they fell 118-116 to the Lakers.  This time they will be walking into a lion's den as the LA fans will be in a frenzy welcoming their conquering hero Kobe Bryant to rescue them from what has been thus far a mediocre season.

Friday night was the fifth loss in as many tries for the Raptors as they fell to the Suns 106-97 as three-point underdogs. If you have been chasing Toronto lately with your hard earned green then you have my condolences. Toronto has not only lost five consecutive games but has failed to cash in NBA odds in each and every one of them. 

As if the loss to Phoenix wasn't bad enough they had to endure most of the game without power forward Tyler Hansbrough who gives them an additional presence on the glass.  Rebounding has been at a premium for this team as they are currently ranked 16th in the league but their defense has responded, allowing a respectable 98.7 PPG, placing them 9th in the NBA.

LA Lakers (10-9 SU, 12-6-1 ATS)

The Staples Center will be buzzing with the return of future Hall-of-Famer Kobe Bryant and the electricity may just spark an invigorated performance from the entire team.  Bryant has been lights out against Toronto, going 13-1 straight up against them during his career and is only one of two teams in which he has an average of over 28 points per game.  In his last meeting with the Raptors he knocked down 41 points in LA's 108-106 nail biting victory.  But it was during the 2006 campaign that he scored a career best 81 points and once again led the Lakers to another victory over Toronto.

When last the Lakers took to the hardwood, they wound up on the winning end of a 106-100 decision as four-point pups in NBA odds.  Pau Gasol and shooting guard Jodie Meeks led the way with 19 points apiece while Jordan Hill was the boss of the glass for LA with nine boards in only 15 minutes of action.  The Lakers should hold a slight advantage on the boards over the Raptors this evening and the addition of Kobe will no doubt help their scoring average.  However, it is the stout defense of Toronto that could upset the apple cart because LA's own defense has been transparent this season.  They have allowed over 102 PPG which places them near the bottom of the NBA heap.

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You can see the public lining up to blindly bet the Lakers here.  The return of Kobe will bring in a swell of square play, which by the way, isn't always the wrong side.  However, if you review the last few meetings between these two teams when Kobe was healthy and suited up, you will find that Toronto matched up quite well.

Yes, in their last meeting LA won the game at home by a narrow two points but it was Toronto that got the cover as 7 ½ point dogs.  The meeting prior, in January of 2013, the Raptors hosted and came out with a 108-103 win as four-point home pups in NBA odds. 

I don't believe Kobe is going to come back and immediately play 40 minutes and drain 30 points.  No, there will be an adjustment not only on his part but for the entire team as well.  Stay away from the squares and play it sharp with your free NBA picks

NBA Pick: Raptors +5 ½ at WilliamHill.com