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Lakers fans boo Kawhi Leonard, then he reminds fans why they wanted him in Clippers win

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LOS ANGELES — When Kawhi Leonard was introduced before the start of the Clippers’ first home game Tuesday night, boos rained down on him from the numerous Lakers fans in attendance still stung by the fact Leonard did not choose their team last July.

When Kawhi Leonard took the mic to address Clippers’ fans pregame, he was almost drowned out with boos — remember, this was a Clippers home game. The first time Leonard went to the free throw line, boos again filled Staples Center.

Less than three hours later, those Lakers fans had left in silence, reminded of what they missed out on in the two-time Finals MVP. Leonard walked off the court to cheers from the Clippers faithful.

Leonard was at the heart of what worked for Los Angeles all night. He sparked a Clippers run in the second quarter when he made seven straight shots, and eventually finished the night with 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting (plus six rebounds and five assists) and was the leader the Clippers hoped he would be as they took the season opener 112-102 from that team down the hall.

“He created the run for us,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of Leonard’s performance. “That’s what he does, he talks with his game, and I think that’s the way it should be.”

While Leonard was the spark, it was the depth and versatility of the Clippers that was the biggest difference in this game — the Clippers won the bench scoring battle 60-19.

Rivers had options. The Lakers had raced out to a fast 13-2 lead thanks in large part to LeBron James’ playmaking and post ups. To change that, less than four minutes into the game, Rivers brought in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell — the smoothest pick-and-roll combo in the league — and they “calmed everything down,” to used Williams’ words. Harrell attacked the rim and quickly picked up a couple buckets. The Clippers picked up the pace and the Lakers struggled to keep up with it all game when that happened.

Later the Clippers went to the Williams/Leonard dribble handoff followed immediately by Harrell setting a pick for Leonard, a play that both worked and was still rough around the edges.

“You saw so many things with Lou and Kawhi and Trezl that they just didn’t see yet,” Rivers said. “So it will be great to grow together.”

All this helped the Clippers get back in the game. At the end of the night, Harrell had 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, Williams had 21 points on 14 shots, and JaMychal Green had 12 points going 4-of-7 from three.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel didn’t have the same options, especially on a night LeBron and Anthony Davis struggled to hit shots. The pair was a combined 15-of-40 shooting and 1-of-7 from three. They scored two points and shot 1-of-6 combined in the fourth quarter. The Clippers were switching picks but laying back and daring LeBron to shoot, then packing the paint if he tried to drive. LeBron could not get past Harrell at points and create, but his options were limited. Still, it was the best play the Lakers had and they likely should have run it more because they don’t have other shot creators to turn to like Rivers did.

Danny Green did his part with 28 points and hitting 7-of-9 from three. He was the best Laker on the court.

The rest of the Lakers let their offensive struggles bleed onto the other end of the court.

“We let our offense dictate our defense,” LeBron said on a night he still had 18 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists. “We have to be better at that… Down the stretch, we had some careless and costly turnovers when we were making a run. I know I had three of them that were very careless and [the Clippers] capitalized on them.”

What the Clippers showed in the opener was the same physical, lunch pail, come ready to go hard attitude that made them tough to play against last season. Now they just do that with Leonard on the roster, too — and with Paul George still to come (once he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery, likely some time next month).

“What I saw in our team was just overall team toughness,” Rivers said. “They hit us with a punch to start but we just kept moving forward. We took it and kept playing. I thought our ball pressure changed the game for us.”

That pressure, and that depth, is going to win them a lot of games this season.

J.J. Redick loses NBA’s longest-active individual playoff streak (13 years)

Pelicans guard J.J. Redick
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As J.J. Redick stared into the distance, he had to see this coming.

Redick will miss the playoffs for the first time in his 14-year career. His Pelicans were eliminated from the postseason race yesterday.

At 13 years, Redick’s playoff streak is tied for the 13th-longest in NBA history. No current player has a longer streak at any point his career. LeBron James also had a 13-year playoff streak (which was snapped last year).

Here are the longest individual postseason streaks in NBA history:

Obviously, some of Redick’s streak was out of his control. He got drafted in 2006 by the Magic, who were rising with Dwight Howard. But Redick’s competitiveness and professionalism made him a steady contributor, and he chose winning situations with the Clippers then 76ers.

But New Orleans was too flawed to make a major leap in this Western Conference.

This clears the way for Bucks wing Kyle Korver to take over the longest active playoff streak. He has played in the last 12 postseasons, and Milwaukee has already clinched a playoff berth.

Here are the longest postseason streaks that could remain active this year.

Players whose teams have already clinched a playoff berth are in blue. Players whose teams are still in the race but haven’t clinched are in gold.

Players are listed with the teams they made the postseason with during their streaks. If they haven’t reached the playoffs with their current team, that team is listed in brackets:

Deandre Ayton misses coronavirus test, arrives late to underway Suns-Thunder game

Suns center Deandre Ayton
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Another testing issue for Deandre Ayton.

This one comes at a terrible time for the Suns.

Phoenix is trying to complete a longshot run to the playoffs and playing the Thunder in a key game today. But Ayton arrived late to the arena after missing a coronavirus test yesterday.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Like many Suns, Ayton has played well in the resumption. Phoenix doesn’t have another big-man option like him, especially with Aron Baynes sidelined. The Suns started Dario Saric in a small lineup today.

Ayton arrived to the arena and is warming up on an exercise bike. He could still get into the game and make a difference.

Already locked into the 4-6 range in the Western Conference and perhaps trying to keep its top-20-protected first-round pick, Oklahoma City is playing without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel and Dennis Schroder. None of those will players will make a late entrance into the game.

Also: It’s ridiculous this wasn’t publicly disclosed sooner. The NBA continues to tout transparency while trying to draw more gambling revenue. Yet, a major lineup issue like this remains secret? That opens the door for some bettors to get inside information, which would be so damaging to the league’s integrity.

Kings now sole owners of second-longest playoff drought in NBA history

Sacramento Kings
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The Kings’ 2018-19 season ended with optimism.

Facing a meager over/under of 25.5 wins, Sacramento surged to 39 wins – its best record in 13 years. Under Dave Joerger, the Kings played a fast and fun style. De'Aaron Fox made historic improvements. Buddy Hield broke out. Several other young players showed promise.

Sure, the Kings missed the playoffs for a 13th straight season – matching the second-longest playoff drought in NBA history. But they were on track to end the skid soon enough.

Except, of course that’s not how it went in Sacramento.

The Kings were eliminated from the postseason chase yesterday, ensuring a 14th straight season outside the playoffs. That alone is now NBA’s the second-longest-ever postseason drought, breaking a tie with the Timberwolves (2005-17). Only the Buffalo Braves/San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers’ 15-year non-playoff streak (1977-91) is longer.

Here are the longest postseason droughts in NBA history:

The Suns could still reach 10 straight years outside the playoffs, but they’re still in the race this season.

The Kings might not be far from climbing this list, either.

Their future looks far bleaker than a year ago. Sacramento fired Joerger to hire Luke Walton, who has underwhelmed. Buddy Hield signed a lucrative contract extension then had a rough season. Fox progressed, though he didn’t make the desired leap into stardom. Other young players had ups and downs. Luka Doncic casts an even larger shadow from Dallas. The Kings’ organizational turmoil continues.

This was a feel-bad season in Sacramento, anyway. All the preceding losing only adds to the misery.

The Kings enter next season with one last chance to avoid the longest playoff drought in NBA history, and they do have a chance. But there’s only pessimism now.

Damian Lillard throws pass away from basket, off Tobias Harris, into hoop (video)

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Damian Lillard was making everything yesterday.

EVERYTHING.

Lillard, who scored 51 points in the Trail Blazers’ win over the 76ers, even got a bucket on this wild pass off Tobias Harris.

Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. It’s even better to be both.