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Kawhi Leonard signing with Clippers; Paul George joining him in massive trade with Thunder

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The Raptors were confident. The Lakers were reportedly confident.

But in the end, the Clippers’ year-long pursuit of Kawhi Leonard paid off.

This was put up quickly on the Kawhi Leonard official fan Instagram page, which is tied to Leonard.

The Clippers seemed to be a longshot in recent days because it was reported Leonard wanted to play with another superstar and Doc Rivers’ crew didn’t have one and didn’t seem to have a line on one in the near future.

Enter the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are sending Paul George to the Clippers for a massive package of players and picks, something broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

George had become disillusioned playing next to Russell Westbrook and how far that team, as constructed, could go in a deep West. His agent reportedly asked for a trade in recent days, and the Clippers took advantage of that opportunity.

The Thunder made more than the best of a difficult situation, they got a haul.

The Clippers become a top title contender in what looks like a wide-open league. The offseason has dispersed talent, leaving several teams in the championship chase.

As he showed with Toronto, Leonard can singlehandedly lift a good team to greatness, and now he has the partner he wanted (one that can form an impressive defensive tandem. The Clippers established credibility with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Now, they look poised to take the next step with the powerhouses that are Leonard and George, with roster depth that includes Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell and others.

The Raptors and Lakers will be left with harder choices.

By leaving the Raptors, Leonard makes history. Superstars had never left the defending champion for another team. But Toronto should, and likely will, just be thankful he delivered a title in his lone year there.

The Raptors now appear extremely unlikely to repeat. But in the championship afterglow, they could go multiple directions. They could remain a solid playoff team with Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol. Or Toronto could trade those vets and start a rebuild around Siakam.

The Lakers must now find role players around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. There’s a lot of pressure on general manager Rob Pelinka after last year’s front office – led by Magic Johnson with Pelinka as top lieutenant – flopped in its role-player signings. The task could easily make the difference between the Lakers winning and losing a title.

The challenge for the Lakers is heightened because a lot of the top role players the Lakers had targeted — J.J. Redick, Trevor Ariza, etc. — are off the board, having signed with other teams. There are players such as Danny Green, who has agreed to sign with the Lakers, plus players such as Marcus Morris, Rajon Rondo may return, but the pickings are much slimmer than they were five days ago.

As Los Angeles’ most popular team, the Lakers will remain in the spotlight. But the Clippers showed their credibility by completing their all-in push for Leonard with a commitment.

Now, they’ll look to get the championship payoff.

Kings return to Staples Center, beat Clippers for second time in a month

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kent Bazemore scored a season-high 23 points, Bogdan Bogdanovic added 20 and the Sacramento Kings beat the Los Angeles Clippers on the road for the second time in less than a month, winning 112-103 on Saturday.

De’Aaron Fox had 20 points and eight assists for the surging Kings. They have won two straight out of the All-Star break and eight of 12 overall.

Sacramento blew a 14-point lead in the second half to a Clippers lineup missing injured stars Paul George and Patrick Beverley. But the Kings then shut out Kawhi Leonard and the Clips for more than five straight minutes down the stretch, making a decisive 10-0 run capped by Harry Giles’ percussive dunk with 58 seconds left.

Leonard scored 31 points in his return from his MVP performance in Chicago, but the Clippers returned from the All-Star break with their first three-game losing streak of the season. Lou Williams added 24 points, and Montrezl Harrell had 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Sacramento had a big lead late in the third quarter, but the Clippers took their first lead of the day on Harrell’s leap-and-lean bucket with 8:30 to play.

The Kings reclaimed the lead on Harry Giles’ putback score with 4:17 left, and Bogdanovic hit a clutch 3-pointer two minutes later.

With the Clippers comfortably in third place in the Western Conference, George and Beverley are both getting extra time off to rest persistent injuries.

Reggie Jackson scored eight points in his Clippers debut two days after the Pistons bought him out, while Marcus Morris had six points and five turnovers in 32 minutes in his home debut nearly two weeks after the Clippers acquired him in a three-way trade.

With George and Beverley sidelined, Clippers coach Doc Rivers used his 28th starting lineup in 56 games, putting newcomers Morris and Jackson in the mix. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these unfamiliar Clippers returned from eight days off and missed 13 of their first 14 shots on their way to a 4-for-24 first quarter with five turnovers.

Sacramento wasn’t much better, but Bazemore scored 15 points in the first half. Los Angeles had more turnovers than field goals until late in the half, but Jackson’s first basket for the Clippers was a 3-pointer in the final second before halftime.

Tonight Miami retires Dwyane Wade’s number, time to watch some career highlights

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Next stop: The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

But first, the Miami Heat will retire Dwyane Wade’s No. 3 jersey tonight, the highlight of a weekend-long celebration.

That seems like a good reason to sit back and watch some vintage Wade highlights. His best play from every one of his NBA seasons is above.

Or, here are the top 35 plays of his career.

Also, just a reminder that Wade’s influence in Miami goes well beyond the court.

Miami’s No. 3 deserves every bit of love he will get from the Miami crowd.

No tanking for Wolves, Karl-Anthony Towns wants to return to court this season

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Karl-Anthony Towns will be sidelined a couple of weeks, at least, with a fractured left wrist. When he returns, there will be 15-17 games left in the season, at most (and the Timberwolves are not headed to the playoffs).

Time to shut him down and tank for a lottery spot?

Not in Minnesota. Towns wants back on the court when healthy,  sources told Jon Krawczynski at The Athletic, plus it’s the right move for the franchise.

“When he’s healthy enough, we’ll be able to make those decisions, but make no mistake, we’re a group that is competing,” coach Ryan Saunders said before a 127-117 loss to the Boston Celtics on Friday night. “You get better and you grow by doing the right things. That’s by, (no matter what) your record is, you’re not looking at the record.”

The translation: The Wolves don’t plan to let their place in the standings dictate their decision with Towns. League sources told The Athletic that Towns desperately wants to return to the court this season to play with Russell, Malik Beasley and the rest of a completely revamped Wolves roster.

There are a few reasons this is the right move for Minnesota.

• It has been a frustrating season for Towns, he is the franchise player, he wants to play, it’s best to keep him happy (and not dreaming of greener pastures elsewhere).

This is not a draft with elite talent at the top of it, so what exactly are the Timberwolves tanking for?

• Towns and Russell could use the time on the court to become more accustomed to each other’s games.

• The coaching staff and front office could use the time to evaluate the fit of players they have around Towns and Russell.

There are times that tanking makes sense, although the viability of that as a strategy has decreased some with the flattened out lottery odds. However, considering this draft and the value of having Towns and Russell on the court together, it doesn’t make sense for Minnesota.

Kemba Walker has knee drained, could get rest in run-up to playoffs

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Kemba Walker is not a guy who misses games. In the last four seasons he has never missed more than three games.

After playing nearly 30 minutes in the All-Star Game last weekend, Walker had his knee drained of fluid this week, is on a course of anti-inflammatories, sat Friday night’s Boston win over the Timberwolves, and could be out a week or two as they try to get him healthy and rested headed into the playoffs.

The idea of getting a little rest heading into the playoffs if foreign to Walker. That didn’t happen in Charlotte, mostly because the Hornets couldn’t afford to sit him and still win. Boston is a much deeper roster.

Walker is trying to get used to the idea.

Walker is averaging 21.8 points and five assists a game for Boston this season, and the Celtics are 8.4 points per 100 possessions better on offense when he is on the court, they shoot much better as a team, and the offense has a smoother flow.

If Boston is going to be the team in the East that is a threat to Milwaukee in the postseason, they will need every bit of Walkers’ skills. The smart move then is to get him healthy and do some load management down the stretch to make sure he is right.

Walker is just going to have to get used to it.