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Three Things to Know: Old-school Kawhi Leonard drops 38 on old friends Popovich, Spurs

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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) Old-school Kawhi Leonard drops 38 on old friends Gregg Popovich, Spurs. This has been the season of “Kawhi Leonard, all-world playmaker.” Coming into Halloween night, Leonard was averaging 7.5 assists per game (his previous career high was 3.5), and he had assisted on (an estimated) 47.6 percent of teammates buckets when on the floor, well above his previous high of 19 percent.

Not against his old friend Gregg Popovich.

Leonard had just one assist but dominated the second half with 25 points, finishing with 38 on the night — plus 12 rebounds and four steals — leading the Clippers to a 103-97 win. Leonard got his buckets his way, going 6-of-11 from the midrange and 2-of-4 on above-the-break threes.

Leonard is being asked to do more playmaking with the Clippers, at least until Paul George’s return. The roster demands it. Leonard’s previous teams had Tony Parker and Kyle Lowry on them — All-Star level playmaking point guards who could run the offense, set guys up, and get buckets. Leonard could work off the ball more and pick his spots. The Clippers have Patrick Beverley, who brings an important skill set (and mindset) to the game but is not a playmaker of the Parker/Lowry level.

Leonard’s dominance against the Spurs followed a pattern — he has taken charge of second halves all season. His usage rate jumps to 40.9 in second halves this season. He’s just done more of that with assists, at least up until Halloween night.

Against the team he left under bitter circumstances (and rested after a load management night off in Utah), Leonard just did it getting buckets for himself rather than setting up teammates. Either way, it worked.

2) Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns each get two-game suspensions for their brawl. Early in the season, sometimes the league likes to send a message — if there’s a fight or a situation where suspensions are warranted, they come in heavy-handed. The goal is to send a message to the rest of the league — this behavior will not be tolerated.

Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns certainly earned suspensions for their fight Wednesday night.

However, the league did not come down all that hard. Both Embiid and Towns got two games (without pay) for the fight and ensuing social media war of words. A lot, but they could have gotten more.

That was it, no other fines or suspensions. Minnesota had wanted to see Ben Simmons fined/suspended for his role a “peacemaker” — one where he eventually ended up on top of Towns and holding the Timberwolves star in a headlock — but there was nothing. The league sided with Simmons, who said he was just trying to separate the big men.

“While we are disappointed with the league’s decision, we understand the magnitude of this unfortunate incident,” Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas said in a statement. “The NBA is highly competitive and last night was a reflection of that. We support Karl and will move forward together as a group.”

Philly will be without Embiid against Portland and at Phoenix. It’s a blow, Philly has been 14.2 points per 100 possessions better this season with Embiid on the court this young season, but they will slide Al Horford into the center spot and not take a huge step backward.

Minnesota will miss Towns more against the Wizards and Bucks He’s been playing at an MVP discussion level to start the season — 27.3 points a game, 11.5 rebounds, a couple of blocks, and he’s shooting 52.9 percent on more than eight three-point attempts per game. Plus he’s been put in more of a playmaker role. Minnesota has nobody who can come close to stepping in for him.

3) Rookie Kendrick Nunn setting records, drops 28 on Hawks in Miami win. How good has Heat rookie Kendrick Nunn been? Check out the numbers:

• He has scored more points in his first five games in Miami — 112 — than any Heat player in history, including Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and all the rest. (LeBron was second at 102.)

• That 112 points through five games is more than the last 26 No. 1 picks have scored through five.

• The last rookie to score more than Nunn through five games was Kevin Durant (113) back in 2007. KD was a heralded No. 2 pick, Nunn went undrafted and spent last season in the G-League.

Nunn has thrived as a starter for Miami, often working off the ball for the now 4-1 Heat. That allows Eric Spoelstra to bring Goran Dragic off the bench in a Lou Williams kind of way. Nunn showed again why he should start next to Jimmy Butler dropping 28 on the Hawks in a 106-97 Heat win.

It’s far, far too early in the season to have a Rookie of the Year conversation, but if one were going to — as we did on the latest PBT Podcast — Nunn has to be the early leader. He’s a great story about perseverance and finding a role in the right organization.

And Miami is 4-1 to start the season, in part because of him.

Raptors drop Kawhi Leonard tribute video

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Wednesday night, Kawhi Leonard returns to Toronto for the first time since leaving the team last summer to head to Los Angeles.

Unlike most returns in recent years, there will not be boos — Toronto will welcome Leonard back with open arms. He won them a ring, there are no hard feelings.

The Raptors already dropped a tribute video on Twitter.

Well done, Raptors.

It’s going to be fun to see his return, which will be a celebration — and should be a good game.

Ja Morant admits he was thinking about cameras on baseline during return to court

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Monday night, Grizzlies star rookie Ja Morant returned to the court after missing four games with what was officially called “back spasms,” but in reality was him recovering from his back hitting a courtside cameraman after a fall.

Morant scored 26 to lead the Warriors to a win in Golden State, but he admitted to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes that when he drove the lane and went up he thought about his landing spot and those cameramen.

Following the contest, Morant acknowledged that instead of solely focusing on being the best version of himself, he occasionally found himself thinking about the proximity of camera operators while driving in the paint.

“It’s tough because I know I just have to do more controlled jumps now,” Morant told Yahoo Sports. “But at the same time, I’m just trying not to think about it and still try to play my game. It’s just a tough situation all the way around, honestly….

“I just think player safety should be first and foremost. How I play and where I end up, [cameramen] are right there. Personally, I like to attack the rack, and I feel like that injury came from me attacking the rack and it was just nowhere to land for me.”

Morant echoes the concern of a lot of players and coaches.

The NBA is aware of the issue, back in 2014 they reduced the number of cameramen on the baseline by half (down to 10 per side) and created a four-foot-wide “runway” on either side of the stanchion that players can run up if they have a full head of steam.

That’s not close to eliminating the problem. The NBA is not going to remove those cameras — the NBA is in the entertainment business, and those cameras provide some of the best video angles and still shots to show fans — but expect it to take another look and review its process here.

What we don’t want to happen is the game loses a promising young player like Morant for a lot more than four games after a run-in with a cameraman.

Bulls’ Otto Porter out at least one more month with fractured foot

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The Chicago Bulls miss Otto Porter. He was a starter on the wing for nine games, scoring 11.2 points per game, hitting 40 percent of his threes, playing solid defense, and the Bulls offense was 8.3 points per 100 possessions better on offense when he was on the court. He’s a steadying influence as a veteran.

However, he has been out the last 16 games with a foot injury, and he’s going to miss at least another month, the Bulls announced Tuesday. The Bulls said Porter saw a specialist and he “confirmed the bone injury and healing response in Porter’s left foot consistent with a small fracture that has become more clearly defined with repeated imaging over the last five weeks.”

What that means for Porter is another month in a boot.

Chandler Hutchison‘s bruised shoulder has him in street clothes, too, which means Kris Dunn will remain the starter for now. Denzel Valentine has used a bump in minutes to show some growth in his game, play fairly well, and make a push for even more run of late.

But without Porter, the Bulls are not the same.

 

 

Report: Kevin Love would prefer to play for Portland if traded

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are listening to trade offers for Kevin Love.

Love’s reaction to this is essentially “whatevs.” He’s been in the middle of trade rumors for four years now, it’s as constant and annoying in his life as taxes.

However, if he is going to get traded, he’d prefer to go home to Oregon and play for Portland, reports Kevin O’Conner at The Ringer.

Love would prefer to play for his hometown Portland Trail Blazers, according to multiple league sources. The Blazers make perfect sense as a destination for Love; they need help for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after the team has been decimated by injuries….

The Blazers have the salaries to make a deal work with the expiring contracts of Hassan Whiteside ($27.1 million) or Kent Bazemore ($19.3 million).

There were previous reports Love just wants to go to a contender. That said, there is logic to him wanting to go home, and there is a good fit in Portland, a team that needed help at the four before injuries rocked the roster. Love is averaging 16.1 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, is shooting 37.1 percent from three, and remains one of the best outlet passers in the game.

Making a trade work is trickier. Bazemore has to play a much larger role after Rodney Hood was lost for the season with a torn Achilles, his availability is up for debate.

Hassan Whiteside can make the trade numbers work with his expiring contract, and Whiteside won’t be missed once Jusuf Nurkic (and even Zach Collins) returns from injury. However, the Cavaliers are going to want draft picks or young players to help with their rebuild to make this trade. Would the Blazers throw in a protected first to make this happen?

There also is this question any team trading for Love has to ask itself: Do we want to take on the three-plus years remaining on his four-year, $120 million contract? That’s a lot of money and years for an All-Star player who is productive but aging, and also has a lengthy injury history.

Portland can also try to trade for Danilo Gallinari and his expiring contract with the Thunder, which has a lot less risk involved.

Love, however, would be popular in Portland, and he would help the team.