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) Giannis Antetokounmpo makes history while dominating the Clippers. For at least one night, Giannis Antetokounmpo had the Midas touch on the basketball court — anything he touched was gold Jerry. Gold!
For example, Antetokounmpo has struggled with his shot this season, hitting 17.4 percent from three and 60 percent on free throws coming into Staples Center to take on the Clippers Monday. Then in L.A. he got red hot in the second half and ended up shooting 4-of-7 from three on the night — tying a career-high for most made threes — and hit 14-of-18 from the free-throw line.
He finished with 38 points, 16 rebounds, 9 assists in the Bucks 129-124 win — and made history in the process:
Antetokounmpo is the first NBA player ever to record 200 points, 100 rebounds, and 50 assists in the first 8 games of the season.
You want more history? Antetokounmpo is the sixth player to have at least 30 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists in three straight games.
The Bucks needed all of Antetokounmpo’s MVP-level performance to hold off a feisty Clippers team that battled back and made it close late. Even without Kawhi Leonard (more on that later, just keep reading). It’s too early to talk MVP in a serious way, but if you’re going to list the players who put themselves in the conversation to start the season that list begins with Antetokounmpo.
This game, and Eric Bledsoe, also gave us the best blooper of the season.
2) How is anyone surprised Kawhi Leonard is already getting load management nights off? For the second time in a week, Kawhi Leonard sat out a nationally televised game (ESPN broadcast the Bucks/Clippers affair). There was not much comment when he didn’t play against the Jazz a week before, but when fans — and ESPN — were deprived of Leonard vs. Antetokounmpo the complaints came flooding in.
How does Leonard sitting out surprise anybody?
The Toronto Raptors played him 60 regular-season games a season ago — he sat out 27 percent of the season — then come the playoffs the rested Leonard was the best player on the planet and led the Raptors to the title. The road map has been laid out, did people think the Clippers were not going to follow it?
Leonard has a quadricep tendon issue in one leg, which has helped lead to a knee issue in his other leg because of compensation. That’s why the official designation here is “Load management, knee — injury” because in the eyes of the Clippers and the NBA this is about health. His knee is not up to playing back-to-back games, so he gets one half of those off.
The argument that it’s too early in the season to take nights off is shortsighted. Should he wait until his knee issue is severe enough he risks more serious injury and/or becomes a chronic pain that will linger all season? Preventative care helps players get through the season and extends their careers. Player health should be the priority, It doesn’t matter what week of the season it is.
The argument that he should have played against the Bucks and sat out against the Trail Blazers Thursday night — another nationally televised game, this time on TNT — is looking at it like a fan and not from the Clippers perspective. The game against Portland is more important to Los Angeles — a win in conference will matter more for seeding in the West and potential tie-breakers down the line. If he’s sitting out half of a back-to-back, which half is a no-brainer. (A lot of the complaining seemed to come from ESPN on-air personalities frustrated Clippers/Leonard chose to play in the TNT game over the one on their network.)
Next week the Clippers are expected to get Paul George back — and he is going to get a lot of load management nights off to make sure his shoulders are rested and right after off-season surgery on both of them. Hopefully, Doc Rivers staggers those nights off, but know they are coming. The Clippers are team load management this season — and that’s one of the reasons they are serious title contenders, too.
3) James Harden had his way and dropped 36 on the Warriors. Houston has stumbled a little out of the gate this season, and while their defense has been the focus — and make no mistake, the Rockets’ defense is terrible — James Harden also just has not been able to get the three to fall for him this season. He was shooting 25.3 percent from three coming into Wednesday night.
The decimated Warriors provide the perfect chance to get things right. While Harden was not electric from deep — 6-of-16, 37.5 percent — he did drop 36 on Golden State.
The Rockets are going to get better this season — Harden and Eric Gordon will hit more threes (Gordon is at 23 percent from deep this season), and opposing teams will not keep shooting 40.3 percent from three against them (even against a not-great Rockets defense that number will drop). We can debate if they are contenders or not, but they are better than their 4-3 record to start the season.