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.
What he cares about is staying healthy and winning basketball games — which are exactly the things he did in the last 48 hours.
There was a storm of criticism in some quarters (and from ESPN personalities) after Leonard sat out Wednesday night’s Clipper game against the Bucks, the first half of a back-to-back, to make sure he stays healthy for the playoffs. You know, the formula he used last year to lead Toronto to a title. But some people seem to care more about being entertained than Leonard’s health and wanted to see Giannis Antetokounmpo and Leonard face off — not so coincidentally on ESPN. Leonard’s reaction to that has been frustration the league detailed his injury publicly — Leonard is a private person — but beyond that, he just shrugs and goes about his business.
“I’m not a guy that reads the media anyway. We’re going to manage it the best way we can to keep me healthy and that’s the most important thing, me being healthy moving forward.”
Then on Thursday against Portland — a game that is more important to the Clippers because it is in conference — Leonard showed what he can do when healthy. Leonard scored 18 in the fourth quarter, took over the game, and led Los Angeles to a 107-100 win against Portland.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts had the line of the night.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum each had 22 points on the night but were shut down and scoreless in the fourth — credit Patrick Beverley for blanketing Lillard, who was 0-of-4 in the final frame. Anfernee Simons scored 16 of his 17 points in the fourth to keep the Blazers in it.
What makes the Clippers so dangerous — aside from the fact they haven’t even added Paul George into the mix yet, that likely comes next week — is that Leonard has help. It was Lou Williams that sank the dagger into the Trail Blazers.
That gave Clipper coach Doc River’s 900th win of his career — an impressive milestone. He and the Clippers cared more about that than the $50,000 fine the team got for Rivers’ comments having Leonard’s back and saying he was healthy.
Rivers has the Clippers focusing on the big picture — this is a team in title contention and everything needs to be focused on that goal. Which means Leonard is going to keep taking nights off. No matter what anyone else cares or thinks.
2) Ben Simmons out Friday night with a sprained shoulder, could miss more games due to injury. Officially, Philadelphia point guard Ben Simmons is out for one game, Friday night against Denver, with a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder. He will be re-evaluated Sunday before the Sixers take on the Hornets.
However, don’t be surprised if he misses more time than that.
Is this a big deal long-term? No. It’s not severe, and it’s Simmons off-arm. This doesn’t change the arc of the season in Philadelphia and Simmons will be back in a week or so at worst.
Short term, it’s a little bit of a problem. Brett Brown has played Josh Richardson out of position as the backup point guard behind Simmons (clearly not trusting Raul Neto or Trey Burke). Richardson played that role a lot in Miami, but he’s a natural wing. He’s okay at the point but turns the ball over a little too much.
Philadelphia hosts Denver Friday night, Charlotte Sunday night, Cleveland Tuesday night, then travel to Orlando on Wednesday. If Simmons misses all those games, the Sixers are still going to be racking up wins.
3) Kemba Walker scores 14 in emotional return to Charlotte. One thing was clear Thursday night: Kemba Walker loves Charlotte and the fans in Charlotte still love Kemba.
Walker left Charlotte last summer after a below-max offer and signed in Boston, but Hornets fans don’t hold that against him. Nor did the organization, which put together a fantastic video tribute.
That was followed by a standing ovation for the clearly emotional Walker.
Walker scored 14 points on the night but was picked up by his teammates — Gordon Hayward had 20 points and 10 rebounds, and Jaylen Brown returned to action scoring a dozen. The Celtics cruised to a 108-87 win to 6-1 on the season.