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Three Things to Know: Kawhi Leonard tweaks shoulder, Spurs fall to Blazers

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Kawhi Leonard injured again. Apparently not seriously, but still. C.J. McCollum beats Spurs without him.
Much like Odysseus just trying to get home, the basketball gods apparently are not done messing with Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs. Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season due to a quad injury, but the last few games he was starting to round back into “top 5 NBA player” form.

Last Friday in Phoenix Leonard tweaked his shoulder again. He was out Sunday in Portland, but after the game coach Gregg Popovich played down the severity of this injury. Let’s hope so. Leonard’s status against the Lakers for Thursday is up in the air. Still, the team is 23-10 without Leonard this season (remember he missed games for rest after his return), they will be just fine.

No Leonard. No Damian Lillard when the Spurs and Trail Blazers met in Portland Sunday, so how about a C.J. McCollum game winner:

LaMarcus Aldridge had 30 points and 14 rebounds on the night, but he missed the game winner and the Portland fans loved that.

2) Josh Richardson completes a late comeback against Jazz with a game-winning layup for Heat.
Utah’s Donovan Mitchell is making a serious Rookie of the Year case of late. The young Jazz guard dropped 27 on the Heat Sunday, including a driving layup that had the Jazz up three with :47 seconds left.

He’s also a rookie, and that means sometimes he makes defensive mistakes. He fouled Kelly Olynyk in the act of shooting late, making it a one-point game. Then on the deciding play veteran Josh Richardson shook him with a change of direction in the paint, then Mitchell got hung-up on an Olynyk screen, allowing Richardson to get the ball and essentially go one-on-one with Derrick Favors. Richardson uses a nice little change-of-pace move to create space and gets the shot.

Miami has won four in a row now, all by single digits.

3) Do I have to? Ugh. Okay. Let’s talk Luke Walton and Lonzo Ball.
I mostly try to avoid writing about anything LaVar Ball, because I have little use for the Kardashians of the NBA. However, sometimes what he says — no matter how outlandish — becomes something that needs to be addressed because it becomes a thing. His recent criticism of Luke Walton falls into that category — he tapped into a vein of some Lakers fans, ones not used to the ups and downs of rebuilding, watching young teams lose and lose their way a little, who think Walton needs to be more demonstrative and old-school. I’ll give you my thoughts on all this — and what I know from sources and reports — in bullet points.

• Luke Walton’s job is safe.

• I mean completely safe. As in he is not going anywhere, not now and not this summer. Honestly, plenty of people around the league see his uptempo offense, saw this team defend earlier in the season, and think he’s doing a good job.

• LaVar Ball is only as big a distraction as the players in the locker room let him be. Being around the team some this season, my impression is people outside the locker room care far more about what Lavar thinks than people inside the locker room.

• So you’re saying players on a bad team that had lost nine straight (before Sunday) may be frustrated with the coach? Shocking.

• I can guarantee the coach is frustrated with the players’ too.

• Walton should be frustrated with his players. The idea that on an NBA team it’s the coaches job to be some sort of rah-rah motivator is wrong — the players are pros, they are getting massive paychecks, they have to motivate themselves nightly. That is part of their job. The players have to bring it nightly, be professionals, and put in the effort before and during games. The Lakers started to come apart when the trade rumors around the squad flared up — welcome to the NBA life. That can’t get in your head (or KCP’s legal issues for that matter). If the players don’t put in the effort it’s on them far more than the coach. It speaks to a lack of leadership among the players in the locker room who are not holding each other accountable. The coach can vent a little, management should take some blame, but at the end of the day this is mostly on the players.

• Also, well played by Walton to joke he sat Lonzo Ball earlier than usual in the first and third quarters Sunday because his dad “talked s—-.”

• If you are LeBron James, Paul George, or any other big Laker free agent target over the next two years, and you’re looking at LaVar Ball and the impact his noise creates, do you want to still want to sign on?

Rudy Gobert says France’s bronze medal ‘means everything’

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Some countries, like the United States, don’t really care about the World Cup. The 2019 FIBA World Cup in China was perhaps evidence of that, with Team USA not even bothering to medal.

For countries like France and players like Rudy Gobert, the World Cup is a chance to show that their nation is one that is coming forth as a place to be reckoned with when it comes to basketball development.

France recently took home third place in the 2019 Cup, and for that the Utah Jazz center was grateful. Speaking to reporters after their win over Australia, Gobert said that grabbing the bronze “means everything” to him and to France.

Via Twitter:

That’s some pretty moving stuff from a guy in Gobert who we know is someone who wears his emotions on his sleeve.

Bernie Sanders says LeBron James is the GOAT over Michael Jordan (VIDEO)

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Everyone has an opinion about who is the greatest player of all time between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Most folks still seem to pick Jordan, although it’s been hard to argue with the type of player that James is in a vacuum outside of measurements like championship rings.

In any case, we now have one more person who has tossed their opinion into the ring of public consciousness. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has now said that he believes that LeBron is the GOAT thanks to his public service.

Via Twitter:

“I think LeBron has been willing to do what a lot of athletes are not and get involved in the political process, put money into education, and I respect that.”

James has certainly done a lot politically, socially, and as an activist. He’s supported things like entire schools, and he’s been on the bleeding edge of NBA activism against things like police brutality.

Jordan has also done his part, including a recent pledge for $1 million in funds to aid Bahamanian hurricane relief. Folks like to bag on MJ for his purported “Republicans buy sneakers, too” comment, but it’s unclear whether he actually ever said or felt that.

In either case, it appears that we know who Sanders thinks is the GOAT. Next someone should ask Elizabeth Warren if she would have taken Kobe or Shaq in 2004.

Watch Zion Williamson snap the head off a golf club (VIDEO)

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As any good golfer can tell you, the key to getting a pure ball flight is figuring out the idea of compression. Instead of scooping the ball off the ground, the idea is to hit the ball first and use the ground to compress the dimpled object between the earth and the clubface.

And while New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson probably isn’t concentrating on his golf game heading into his first NBA season, it looks like the idea of compression isn’t lost on him.

As the Pelicans held a golf event this week, Williamson was filmed snapping the head off of an iron while taking a shot off the tee box.

Via Twitter:

It’s hard to tell from this angle, but it looks like Williamson has a pretty solid swing. I’m extremely jealous of the amount of lag he has at the return parallel position on the downswing.

Someone get this guy a stiffer shaft or something. I can only imagine the kind of havoc Williamson is going to inflict on NBA rims this year if this is how the man golfs.

James Harden on Russell Westbrook pairing: ‘We’ll figure it out’

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There has been some doubt that James Harden and Russell Westbrook will be able to fit together with the Houston Rockets this season. Both players have matured quite a bit since their time together in Oklahoma City with the Thunder, and now there are real questions about Westbrook’s ability to fit next to just about anyone.

Like Westbrook, Harden is a ball-dominant guard, and we still don’t know the long-term plan for Coach Mike D’Antoni. Houston has real championship hopes, but they could also look much different in a year or two.

Still, Harden and Westbrook have known each other since they were 10 years old. They grew up together in Los Angeles, and are at least very good friends. To that end, Harden says that he believes they will be able to figure it out even if the first year together has bumps along the way.

Via GQ:

It’s like, yo, we’ll figure it out. Everything isn’t necessarily going to be smooth at first, there are going to be ups and downs, and that’s part of an 82-game season. Hopefully by the end of the season, we’ve caught a rhythm and everybody is on the same page going into the playoffs. That’s all you can ask for.

That’s a pretty reasonable outlook to have at this juncture. The NBA is constantly changing, and it’s possible that these two guys could have such a personal connection that their on-court conflicts end up being negligible.

It’s another new era in Houston as they try to capitalize on the Golden State Warriors’ injury issues.