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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.

Khris Middleton drops career-best 51 on Wizards, Bucks win without Antetokounmpo

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton scored a career-high 51 points in the absence of injured teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo, leading the Milwaukee Bucks to a 151-131 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night.

Middleton, hoping to be chosen an All-Star reserve for the second straight year on Thursday, helped the Bucks hold off a second-half Wizards rally. Middleton also had 10 rebounds and six assists while hitting 16 of 26 shots and 7 of 10 3-pointers.

Milwaukee (41-6) scored a franchise-record 88 points in the first half, finished with its highest total of the season and won its ninth straight game despite the absence of Antetokounmpo, who sat out with a right shoulder injury.

Bradley Beal led the Wizards (15-31) with 47 points, his second straight 40-point game and sixth of the season.

Milwaukee led by as many as 32 points but the Wizards rallied in the third quarter, putting up 41 points to cut their deficit to 117-104 entering the fourth. Washington got within seven points in the final period but could not get closer.

Eric Bledsoe had 34 points, 10 assists and six rebounds for the Bucks. Donte DiVincenzo added 16 points.

Middleton responded with 13 points in the fourth quarter as he scored the most points by a Bucks player this season. He pounded home a dunk to go over 50 points and give the Bucks a 13-point lead late in the final quarter.

Antetokounmpo had 50 points on Nov. 25 against Utah.

The Bucks came out firing from deep, hitting eight of their first nine attempts from 3-point range. Milwaukee converted 14 of 22 shots in the first quarter on the way to a 42-28 lead.

And they kept going in the second quarter. Middleton hit his fourth 3-pointer of the half to give the Bucks a 69-43 lead with 5:46 left. Middleton nailed two more 3s to finish the half 6 for 6 from 3-point range and with 28 points.

The Bucks sank 14 of 24 3-pointers in the half and established a franchise best for points in a half as they grabbed an 88-63 lead at intermission.

The previous mark for points in a half was 87 set against New Orleans on March 14, 1979.

Joel Embiid’s Kobe tribute: 24 points while wearing uniform No. 24; 76ers’ win

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Wearing No. 24 in honor of Kobe Bryant, Joel Embiid scored 24 points in his first game in three weeks, leading the Philadelphia 76ers to a 115-104 win over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night.

Embiid and the rest of the Sixers wore No. 24 and No. 8 Bryant jerseys in warmups in honor of the Los Angeles Lakers star, who was killed Sunday in a helicopter crash. Embiid was granted permission from Hall of Famer Bobby Jones to wear the retired No. 24 instead of his usual 21 for his first game since he tore a ligament in a finger in his left hand.

The Sixers went 6-3 without Embiid, the first Sixer to be voted to three straight All-Star Games since Allen Iverson.

Embiid had averaged 23.4 points and 12.3 rebounds in 31 games this season. Against the Warriors, Embiid played with a splint on his hand that didn’t affect him when he buried a 3 that sent the Sixers into halftime with a 59-54 lead.

Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons had “Mamba Forever” and “RIP Gigi” (for Bryant’s daughter, among the nine killed in the crash) on each sneaker and scored 17 points.

The Sixers were the latest team to honor Bryant in a pregame ceremony. Bryant led suburban Lower Merion High School to the Class AAAA state title at Hersheypark Arena in 1996, the school’s first since 1943. His framed No. 33 Aces jersey was displayed at midcourt and the Sixers held a 33-second moment of silence of Bryant and the other eight victims in Sunday’s crash. The Sixers rang a bell nine times and shone nine lights on the court during the solemn remembrance. The Sixers skipped pregame introductions for both teams and instead played a video of Bryant’s last introduction in Philadelphia in a December 2015 game and images of him with Allen Iverson and Julius Erving.

Yes, all teams have been affected by Bryant’s death, but it struck particularly hard in Philly, where the former NBA star had a turbulent relationship with Philadelphia. His high school coach Gregg Downer spoke to the media for the first time earlier in the day, and wore Bryant’s No. 33 Lower Merion warmup jacket.

The mood in the building also was tempered, in part, because the 10-win Warriors gave the Sixers a serious challenge. The Sixers were 12-point favorites but D'Angelo Russell, who scored a team-high 28 points, kept the Warriors within single digits for most of the fourth quarter.

Al Horford buried a 3 and Shake Milton followed with another to push it to a 16-point lead and send the Sixers on their way to a whopping 22-2 record at home.

 

A tearful Shaquille O’Neal talks about his time, relationship with Kobe Bryant

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Shaquille O’Neal told Justin Tasch of New York Post: “I’m not doing well. I’m sick” about the death of his former teammate Kobe Bryant (along with eight others, including his daughter Gianna).

A lot of people can relate to that, but Shaq pulled it together enough to talk about his former championship teammate.

When it came to what he could no longer tell Kobe, Shaq teared up.

Shaq and Kobe had legendary feuds back in the day, but in later years made up and were friends.

Like many people, Shaq is still trying to process all of it. That’s going to take a long time.

Chris Paul posts emotional tribute to Kobe Bryant

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Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant were tight.

The shocking death of Kobe Bryant — along with his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash — hit CP3 hard and the point guard missed his first game of the year Monday, sitting out as he tried to come to grips with it all. Kobe and Paul won Gold Medals together, their kids were friends, and they competed fiercely against each other on the court. 

Tuesday night, Paul posted this personal tribute to Kobe.

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I don't know if I'll ever be able to fully process it. My parents have always said everything happens for a reason and its in God’s plan. But this one is different. Broken fingers, torn Achilles, it didn’t matter. You overcame it all!! You were DIFFERENT! Sometimes we competed so hard against each other that you could never tell how I was always watching YOU!! I needed to see how much better I needed to get and how much harder I needed to work! The love you had for the game was nowhere near the love you had for YOUR girls!! All 5 of them!! And Gigi, who we had already prearranged her marriage with lil Chris, is as beautiful and feisty as she could ever be!!! As I’ve watched you in retirement, as happy as you’ve ever been, I’ve sat back and prayed and hoped that my baby girl will look at me the way Gigi looks at you!!! I Love You and will miss you with all my heart my brother!!! All my love to Vanessa and all the families during this time 🙏🏾 #Mamba4Life #Mambacita

A post shared by Chris Paul (@cp3) on

Like Paul, a lot of us are struggling to process it all.