Rumor: Pistons have taken calls, open to possible Saddiq Bey trade

Detroit Pistons v New York Knicks
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With the Pistons last in the East and Cade Cunningham considering shin surgery that would end his season, the Pistons are a team that could be sellers at the trade deadline as they turn toward the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. The name most mentioned in possible trades is Bojan Bogdanovic.

Add Saddiq Bey to the list, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports.

Another Pistons player league personnel are monitoring is third-year forward Saddiq Bey. The Villanova product was recently demoted from the starting lineup before bouncing right back into Dwane Casey’s opening unit. Bey will become extension-eligible this summer and has had a noticeable drop in production. Detroit has taken early calls on Bey from inquiring teams, sources said, a change in behavior from recent trade windows. But it seems the Pistons are intent on further evaluating Bey before truly entertaining his trade market.

Trading Bey now would be selling low (something teams try to avoid) — how much are teams going to give up for the fifth scoring option on one of the worst teams in the league? He has struggled this season to find his role next to Bogdanovic, and while he is still averaging 14.6 points a game with a 56 true shooting percentage (around the league average, he’s still a solid finisher inside), he has struggled from 3 (29%) and is having maybe his worst defensive season. Would a team even surrender a first-round pick for Bey right now?

The questions for Detroit about trading Bey are, in part, bigger picture ones: Are they keeping Bogdanovic so they are more competitive next season? What are their expectations for next season and what do they want that roster to look like? If they are going to trade Bogdanovic — who has the highest value of any veteran they may move — then the Pistons may want to hang on to Bey and hope he can step into more of that role.

The Pistons aren’t rushing into anything, but watch what moves they are making because it will signal a lot about the plans for their future direction.

Bey remains out with a sprained ankle as the Pistons head into Phoenix.

NBA Power Rankings: Celtics, Bucks on top of Thanksgiving edition

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It’s the Thanksgiving edition of the NBC Sports weekly NBA Power Rankings, and in this one we talk a little about what each fan base should be thankful for this year. Spurs fans, you should be thankful for Gregg Popovich.

 
Celtics small icon 1. Celtics (13-4, Last week No.1). Boston has to be thankful for coach Joe Mazzulla, who has struck just the right tone with this team after being thrust into the head coaching position days before training camp. He didn’t try to reinvent the wheel, trusted what had been built and what these players had worked on, and struck the right tone. The Celtics are now home for six straight with some interesting tests: Luka Doncic and the Mavericks (Wednesday) and the red-hot Kings on Friday.

 
Bucks small icon 2. Bucks (12-4, LW 2). Milwaukee has to be thankful for the return of peak Brook Lopez, who leads the NBA in total blocks (44) and blocks per game (2.8), and who has played at a Defensive Player of the Year level. He is the reason they have the second-best defense in the NBA. Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 30.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists a game, but some people don’t see him as a top-five MVP candidate so far because his two-point shooting has fallen to 57% this season. Really?

 
Suns small icon 3. Suns (11-6, LW 4). Phoenix fans should be thankful Devin Booker is their anchor. This team has gone 4-3 without starters Chris Paul and Cameron Johnson because Booker has been phenomenal this season, averaging 27.6 points a game, shooting 38% from 3, and dishing out 5.8 assists daily. Cameron Payne also deserves credit for stepping up with CP3 nursing a sore heal. The Suns get the two upstart teams in the West, the Jazz and Kings, in some interesting tests this week.

 
Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (11-6, LW 6). Be thankful for a front office with Koby Altman (and an owner) willing to go all in on Donovan Mitchell because it has worked out (29.8 points and 6 assists a game). He has been better than advertised, and with Darius Garland (23.9 points and 7.8 assists), the Cavs may have the best backcourt in the league. The one thing that would keep them from that crown is Garland’s turnovers. A couple of good tests to see where this team really stands in the East coming up with games in Milwaukee and Toronto.

 
Jazz small icon 5. Jazz (12-7, LW 10). A little wind has come out of the sails as the Jazz have dropped 4-of-6 but Jazz fans have to be thankful that Lauri Markkanen has found himself and been maybe the biggest surprise in the NBA this season. He’s averaging 22.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, shooting 36.1% on 3-pointers, and he looks like the hometown All-Star in Salt Lake City. It’s not the offense that has been the issue of late, it’s the 28th-ranked defense over the last six games. Will Hardy has to come up with a way to get some stops for this team.

 
Mavericks small icon 6. Mavericks (9-7, LW 5). Dallas has taken its foot off the gas — and Luka Doncic has looked a little low on gas — in some ugly losses lately (Pelicans without Zion Williamson, Magic without Paolo Banchero, Wizards without Beal or Porzingis). It’s concerning long term that this team needs an MVP night from Doncic to have a chance against the best teams. Mavericks fans need to be thankful that Spencer Dinwiddie is doing as much as he is to be the No.2 shot-creating option on this team (17.1 points and 5.1 assists a game, shooting 40.7% from 3), as Jason Kidd clearly isn’t leaning into Christian Wood because of defensive concerns.

 
Clippers small icon7. Clippers (11-7, LW 13). The Clippers are thankful Kawhi Leonard is back, and they are 3-0 since he returned to the starting lineup. They are top 10 in the league in offense and defense in those games (Leonard is out Wednesday night with an ankle issue). Tyronn Lue has said he wants to build an offensive identity of” drive, touch the paint, kick, swing” and we started to see that when they hit 21 3-pointers against the Spurs. Their front office and coaches talked about the return of Leonard as meaning it was time to drill down and start building good habits, and even with Paul George and Luke Kennard out there are some promising early returns.

 
Kings small icon 8. Kings (10-6, LW 16). Kings fans need to be thankful for The Beam — it’s a rallying point the team has bought into, and it has them winning six in a row. The other reason for the winning streak (and another reason for Kings fans to be thankful) is the team has gone against the easiest schedule in the league so far this season. That will change, but right now the Kings are doing what playoff teams do and beating the teams they are supposed to beat. And they are lighting the beam.

 
Pelicans small icon 9. Pelicans (10-7, LW 12). So much of the focus on this team is whether Zion Williamson is in or out of the lineup, but even with the changes New Orleans has the fourth-best net rating in the NBA for the season. It helps to pick up quality wins when the Warriors sit everyone you can name in both games in the Big Easy, but still those count as wins. New Orleans fans should be thankful for Brandon Ingram finding his 3-point shot — 48.2% on 4.3 attempts per game this season, a big leap for him that helps open up the court.

 
Blazers small icon 10. Trail Blazers (10-7, LW 7). Losers of four in a row and now they will be without Damian Lillard a while longer (while heading into a tough road stretch: at Cleveland, then both New York teams, then the Clippers at home). Trail Blazers fans should be thankful for Jerami Grant, who has fit in beautifully playing next to Lillard and is scoring 19.6 points per game while shooting an unsustainable 47.1% from 3. Grant remains a much-needed plus defender on this team as well. He has been worth every penny as a pickup.

 
Nuggets small icon 11. Nuggets (10-7, LW 3). Denver stumbled with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray in health and safety protocols, but the bigger questions are how long they can keep winning with a bottom 10 defense. Nuggets fans should be thankful for the play on that end of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who remains a much-needed plus defender on the wing. Fun measuring stick game Friday at home against the Clippers, who are surging of late.

 
Grizzlies small icon 12. Grizzlies (10-8, LW 9). Memphis fans should be thankful for the health and return of Jaren Jackson Jr. — it’s only been three games but their rim protection is much better, plus he has provided some offensive versatility scoring 18 a night. Ja Morant missed only one game with his Grade 1 ankle sprain, and clearly he was fine dropping 34 in the loss to the Kings. One of the biggest long-term questions the Grizzlies have to answer is how to strike a balance that can keep Morant on the court — he’s an aggressive, attacking player with insane hops and history suggests though kinds of players battle injuries (think Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose). Morant will push through, but the Grizzlies must find a way to keep him healthy long-term.

 
Pacers small icon 13. Pacers (10-6, LW 19). This might be too low a ranking for a Pacers team where everything is going well (winners of four in a row heading into Wednesday). They are playing at one of the fastest paces in the league (18% of their possessions start in transition), they have a potential Rookie of the Year in Bennedict Mathurin, and Pacers fans should be thankful the team held on to Myles Turner because he is having one of the best rim protection seasons of any big in the league. With Tyrese Haliburton running the offense, there is no reason this team can’t sustain a playoff level this season.

 
Hawks small icon 14. Hawks (10-7, LW 8). Atlanta fans should be thankful for this optimistic sign: Two of the Hawks wins have come against the Bucks, which both times did have Antetokounmpo in the lineup. The surprising stat about this team is the lack of 3-pointers a game, they are making 9.2 a night, tied for last in the league with the Lakers. The Hawks aren’t taking them (28.7 a game, second-fewest in the league) and not making the ones they take (32% as a team). Trae Young is part of the problem, hitting just 30.4% of his 3s this season. The Hawks are 2-3 in their last five, but this bucket by A.J. Griffin gave them a dramatic victory.

 
Wizards small icon 15. Wizards (10-7, LW 18). Washington fans should be thankful for Kristaps Porzingis‘ health, he has played in all but one game so far this season and is giving them 20.4 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. They don’t win games like the one against the Heat without him. While Bradley Beal has been in seemingly constant trade rumors for years, there is some buzz around the league that the name teams are calling Washington about now is Kyle Kuzma. He’s averaging 19.1 points and 8.2 assists a game this season, and he has a player option for next season he is not expected to pick up, making him a free agent. If the Wizards aren’t going to pay up and re-sign him this summer, they may have to consider a trade.

 
Sixers small icon 16. 76ers (9-8, LW 11). Tuesday’s win against Ben Simmons and the Brooklyn Nets — done without Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey or James Harden — is something this team can build upon, a win that was about culture and depth, not top-end talent. The Sixers just played harder than the Nets. With three games on the road this week but against Charlotte, then two against the Magic, the 76ers could keep racking up wins and start to turn around a season that has been slow to start and gotten Doc Rivers seat warm. Embiid should be the first of the big three to return to the court, but the 76ers will not rush him.

 
Raptors small icon 17. Raptors (9-8, LW 14). Toronto has kept its head above water with Pascal Siakam out, having gone 4-4 so far in his absence. Despite a rash of injuries — which has become an unfortunate Toronto tradition — this team has the net rating of a 10-7 team, something that holds promise for what they might be if they can just get everyone healthy at the same time. They are home for three this week but no easy ones with the Nets, Mavericks, and Cavaliers coming north of the border.

 
18. Timberwolves (9-8, LW 24). After a disappointing start to the season, the Timberwolves have rattled off four wins in a row (including solid wins against the Cavaliers, 76ers and Heat) and they are playing better on both ends of the floor (top 10 offense and defense over those four). Anthony Edwards is attacking again and Minny is getting stops. With a relatively soft schedule coming up (Pacers, Hornets, Warriors, Wizards) a hot Minnesota team could get on a run and climb the ladder in the West that remains very compact (the Timberwolves sit at No. 10 as of this writing but are just two games out of first place).

 
Warriors small icon 19. Warriors (8-10, LW 17). It seems obvious, but Warriors fans should be thankful for the throwback, vintage, MVP-level season Stephen Curry is having so far: 32.3 points, 7.1 assists, 6.7 rebounds a game shooting 44.7% from 3 and carrying a ridiculous workload. Those Warriors fans can also be frustrated with the rest of the franchise for squandering his play, but there have been a couple of positive signs. They picked up a road win, for one. Second, a couple of strong games from Klay Thompson as he seems to be getting his legs back under him. They are not out of the mix in a tight West, but it will be challenging to string together wins this week against the Clippers, Jazz, Timberwolves and Mavericks.

 
Knicks small icon 20. Knicks (9-9, LW 20). Knicks fans should be thankful that Jalen Brunson has been even a little better than advertised, not just in raw numbers but in providing a steady hand guiding the offense and getting guys in position. As discussed in my podcast this week with Tommy Beer, the Knicks still feel like a team that needs to do something to shake up the roster at the trade deadline and that could mean shopping Julius Randle. Although the market for him may be limited.

 
Nets small icon 21. Nets (8-10, LW 21). The Nets got Kyrie Irving back, strung a couple of wins together and you started to think “maybe this team can figure it out,” Then they have maybe their ugliest loss of the season to the shorthanded 76ers on Tuesday. The Nets tried to build a contender, went through pain this summer to keep this potential contender together, and for what? Watching them now, we can all just forget them getting to the level of the Bucks and Celtics, instead we need to ask if they even get to the level of the Cavaliers? Hawks? Raptors?

 
Thunder small icon 22. Thunder (7-10, LW 23). Thunder fans need to be thankful for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — forget the need to tank for a franchise cornerstone, the Thunder already have the kind of player other teams tank and hope for. Gilgeous-Alexander is playing at an All-NBA, maybe bottom-of-the-MVP-ballot level averaging 31.1 points and 6 assists a game, shooting 39.1% from 3. His play this season may have Sam Presti and company speeding up the timeline for turning this team around, which is not a bad thing.

 
Bulls small icon 23. Bulls (7-10, LW 22). Billy Donovan called out his players before Friday’s game against Orlando, then benched Zach LaVine for the final 3:43 of it, with the game in doubt, trying to send a message. It worked the Bulls played maybe their best game of the season Monday beating the Celtics, snapping a four-game losing streak. Now Chicago heads out on a six-game road trip and if they don’t bring that Boston energy things could get ugly fast.

 
Heat small icon 24. Heat (7-11, LW 15). Miami has been ravaged again by injuries this season and it makes it difficult to say where this team truly stands — we haven’t seen them whole long enough to have an idea. Who is the only Heat player to start every game? Kyle Lowry (I didn’t see that one coming before the season). Their preferred starting five hasn’t started together since Nov. 1. What’s different from last season is that when guys went down the Heat leaned into players such as Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and the guys nobody knew about who Erik Spoelstra and company turned into solid role players. This season, there haven’t been those new guys. The other thing that is clear now, the Heat need the shot creation of Tyler Herro in the offense or they are a bit predictable.

 
Lakers small icon 25. Lakers 5-11, LW 27). Anthony Davis is on a tear — four straight games of at least 30 points and 15 rebounds — and that combined with a soft part of the schedule as the Lakers going 3-1 in their last four. LeBron James is set to return to the lineup Friday, and with the next two games against the Spurs, Los Angeles has the chance to go on a little run and start to turn their season around. If that happens, and Rob Pelinka looks at a West where no team has run away and hid, might he be more likely to go all-in on a move and try to give his team a puncher’s chance in the postseason? Should he?

 
Hornets small icon 26. Hornets (4-14, LW 28). The basketball gods are cruel. LaMelo Ball gets back on the court for three games before injuring the same ankle on a fluke play stepping on a fan’s foot. That happened just as the Hornets were getting Gordon Hayward back from his injury (he has 33 points across two games, shooting 50%). There have been other bright spots for Charlotte, such as the play of Kelly Oubre Jr. and Dennis Smith Jr., but it hasn’t been enough to earn more than one win so far in November.

 
Magic small icon 27. Magic 5-13, LW 25). Orlando has gone 3-4 with Paolo Banchero out due to a sprained ankle (he could return on Friday), but that includes having dropped 4-of-5. Still, Magic fans need to be thankful their front office went with Banchero because he is unquestionably the real deal, the kind of shot-creating franchise cornerstone they need. Franz Wagner also continues to play well, averaging 19.3 points per game (we’ll see how he responds emotionally to the German’s loss to Japan in their opening World Cup game).

 
Rockets small icon 28. Rockets (3-14, LW 29). On the bright side, the Rockets are forcing more close games this season, they have 10 clutch games (within 5 points in the final 5 minutes). The problem is they have the worst offensive net rating of any team in those minutes (71.9) — the young stars in Houston have not yet figured out how to score against focused defenses). The bright side, the thing to be thankful for in Houston, is the play of Alperen Şengun and Kenyon Martin Jr. so far this season. There is real promise there.

Pistons small icon 29. Pistons (4-15, LW 30). It may just be the silver lining, but Pistons fans should be thankful for the deep draft coming up next June. This team hoped to be thinking postseason not lottery, but with Cade Cunningham now out for an extended period of time, the Pistons may be the first team that had play-in aspirations to fully pivot to “Brick for Vic” (or whatever we’re calling the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes). The Pistons had lost eight in a row until they beat the Nuggets, but still have the Jazz and Suns left on this road trip.

 
Spurs small icon 30. Spurs (6-12, LW 26). Gregg Popovich on getting his team through a rough season focused on player growth: “You have to assess an individual’s development based on where they started from, and how much they continue to glean from whether it’s you know, practice or film or shootarounds, game situations, that sort of thing. So it’s about values and goals and that’s how you get through it. And beyond that, you kind of slap yourself. It’s really a tough life. I can’t pay my electric bill. The players can’t pay their gas bills and gas is too expensive for them to buy — come on, give me a break. You know, it’s the greatest job in the world. So if you complain, you’re an idiot.”

Reports: Pistons’ Cade Cunningham considering shin surgery

Cleveland Cavaliers v Detroit Pistons
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The Detroit Pistons came into the season hoping to compete for a play-in spot, but they have stumbled to a 3-14 start. With this latest news, they may be the first team to pivot to the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes.

Cade Cunningham, who has sat out the team’s last five games, is considering shin surgery that could sideline him for an extended period of time, according to multiple reports.

There are reports this is a stress fracture in his shin. From James Edwards III and Shams Charania of The Athletic:

There is still hope that this past week of rest subdued inflammation and pain enough to return to the floor sooner rather than later, but that still can only be decided with more time. In the worst-case scenario, the chronic pain continues to linger and Cunningham takes a route that forces him to miss an extended period. However, per league sources, Cunningham is trying to turn over every stone before deciding to get surgery.

Regardless of the route Cunningham takes, he is expected to be out indefinitely as everyone invested in the rising star’s future works to determine the best course of action for his long-term health.

Surgery likely would end Cunningham’s season, reports Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes.

Cunningham, the No.1 overall pick of the Pistons in 2021, had a standout rookie season and impressed at the start of his second campaign, with 19.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and six assists a game until he sat down with the shin pain.

Whether or not he has surgery, if he misses an extended period, it will leave the Pistons with one of the worst records in the NBA. Considering the depth of talent at the top of next year’s draft board — not just Wembanyama but also Scoot Henderson, Nick Smith, Amen Thompson and more — the Pistons will need to consider what is best for the long-term success of the franchise. And that may not be winning a lot of games this season.

Kawhi Leonard returned, now season really begins for Clippers

Detroit Pistons v Los Angeles Clippers
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LOS ANGELES — The Clippers’ season started Thursday night.

For 15 games Los Angeles had been able to keep its head above water. An elite defense (second-best in the league) and the third-easiest schedule allowed them to be 8-7 despite the worst offense in the league to date.

From the front office through the locker room, there was a sense that Thursday night was when the Clippers had to get serious — Kawhi Leonard returned from the knee soreness that had sidelined him all but 42 minutes this season. Kawhi was in the Clippers’ starting lineup for the first time since Game 4 against the Jazz in the 2021 playoffs.

It wasn’t pretty. Leonard finished with six points on 2-of-8 shooting, five rebounds, and four assists in just under 25 minutes. To the Clippers’ credit, they didn’t force-feed him chances early, they let the game come to him, but the rust was apparent.

That said, his presence changed the game: Leonard was +26 in a five-point Clippers win over the shorthanded Pistons (96-91).

“Offensively he didn’t play great,” coach Tyronn Lue acknowledged. “But you know, his impact defensively is huge for us. So you know, with him on the floor we’re a different team.”

“I don’t know if a lot of people knew it, but how he took over the fourth and just a calm demeanor, the way he wanted the ball, the way that he got us in positions,” Reggie Jackson said of Leonard’s impact on the game when the Clippers pulled ahead for the win.

It was the first step, but there are so many more the Clippers need to take.

“I feel like we need to be better at everything,” Leonard said. “Out of timeouts, defensive rotations, definitely the offensive end, we’ve got to start getting better shots. Just everything. I feel like we’re behind and we to start focusing up.”

The Clippers’ offense has no identity yet (and they will be without Luke Kennard for a week or two with a strained calf). Lue knows what he wants it to be — “drive, touch the paint, kick, swing” — but more often than not at the first sign of resistance the Clippers retreated to isolation basketball. It has been their default all season. The team needs to show a little more commitment to the system, picking their spots for Leonard or Paul George isolations, and it needs some continuity.

However, just Leonard and George’s gravity as scorers can create easy opportunities for others.

“So having those guys, having all those weapons… your defense is really geared up toward them. So it allows [Ivica Zubac] and I an easy pick-and-roll, easy reads,” Patrick Beverley said after he scored a team-high 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting against the Pistons.

Beverly admitted he was still trying to adjust to playing with Leonard again, to what the Clippers look like with their core healthy. The Clippers also talked about having 66 games still to figure it all out — the NBA season is a marathon.

“It’s just a process man just hoping you can get Kawhi and keep him on the floor for a long period of time so we can kind of get our rhythm and rotations, and try to see the team we’re actually going to be,” Lue said.

What does Lue see as the next step for Leonard?

“Playing Saturday,” he said.

Looking beyond that with this team is not a luxury Lue is afforded. But he understands that the season has started in earnest for his team now, and if they want to live up to their preseason picks as a potential contender in the West, they have a lot of work to do.

Three things to know: O’Neal tips in game-winner, now Nets get Irving back

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LOS ANGELES — Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) O’Neal tips in game-winner, now Nets get Irving back

Everyone in the building, everyone watching at home (including Kyrie Irving), knew what the Nets’ wanted to do with 6.7 seconds left in a tie game: Get the ball to Kevin Durant.

They did — and he missed.

But Royce O’Neal was there to save the day.

In a sloppy game the Nets got a quality win — winning on the last night of a road trip against a 10-4 (now 10-5) Trail Blazers team, with Kevin Durant recording his 16th straight 25+ point game to start the season (tying him with Michael Jordan for the sixth-longest streak to open a season in NBA history).

Maybe more importantly, the Nets got the best game of the season out of Ben Simmons, who finished with 15 points on 6-of-6 shooting, 13 rebounds, and seven assists. He fouled out, he never took a shot outside the paint, but he made a real impact. That was different.

And things are about to get better for the Nets — Kyrie Irving should return for the team’s next game on Sunday.

Multiple reports say Irving has cleared protocols and is expected to play Sunday when the Nets host the Grizzlies. He and the Nets found steps that made everyone happy and he did enough to satisfy the powers that be following a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and a defiant first reaction to the backlash to his Tweet). Irving apologized in an Instagram post, met with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, and met with Nets’ owner Joe Tsai and his wife, among other steps.

A couple of days ago Durant was frustrated enough to tell Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report, “Look at our starting lineup. Edmond Sumner, Royce O'Neale, Joe Harris, [Nic] Claxton and me. It’s not disrespect, but what are you expecting from that group?”

But with the group the Nets roll out Sunday, with Irving back, more than 7-9 will be expected.

2) Kawhi Leonard returns but now the real work begins in Los Angeles

For the first time since Game 4 against the Jazz in the 2021 playoffs, Kawhi Leonard started a basketball game.

Just look at the box score and you’d think Leonard didn’t impact the game much — six points on 2-of-8 shooting, five rebounds, four assists in just under 25 minutes— but that would miss the critical number: he was +26 in a five-point Clippers win over the Pistons.

“I don’t know if a lot of people knew it, but how he took over the fourth and just a calm demeanor, the way he wanted the ball, the way that he got us in positions,” Reggie Jackson said of Leonard’s impact on the game. He later added that the attention Leonard and Paul George draw opened the door for him and Ivica Zubac to run simple pick-and-rolls that got him open for Bucks.

Jackson was the Clippers’ best player on the night, finishing with 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting, and in the first half of as sloppy and ugly a basketball game as has been played in the NBA this season, Jackson felt like the only Clipper who could make a shot. George and Marcus Morris Sr. each added an inefficient 16 points in the Clippers’ 95-91 win.

Both teams scored under a point per possession in this slog of a game, but the Pistons have more of an excuse with Cade Cunningham and Isaiah Stewart out.

The Clippers have played a lot of “bet the under” games this season — they have the second-best defense but the worst offense in the league statistically. With Leonard back, it’s time for the Clippers to stop treading water and start moving forward.

“I feel like we need to be better at everything,” Leonard said. “Out of timeouts, defensive rotations, definitely the offensive end, we’ve got to start getting better shots. Just everything. I feel like we’re behind and we need to start focusing up.”

The Clippers are 9-7 but light years away from looking like the contenders they believe they are. With Leonard back from knee stiffness that limited him to 42 minutes over the first 15 games of the season, Los Angeles can start that journey.

3) Light the beam, Kings win fifth straight

You knew the new Kings tradition of lighting up four purple lasers that shoot out of the top of the Golden One Center after a Kings win has taken on a life of its own when fans started chanting “light the beam” near the end of the game Thursday night.

The fans got their wish after a 130-112 Kings win over the Spurs powered by 28 points from De'Aaron Fox and 26 off the bench from Malik Monk. Chimezie Metu got the honors Thursday.

Devin Vassell had 29 to lead the Spurs, although the play of the night belonged to Jeremy Sochan — the rookie can dunk.

After starting the season 0-4, the Kings have won 8-of-10 and the positive vibes are flowing in the California capital. Sure, Sacramento has done this against the third easiest schedule in the league so far, but the best teams — playoff teams — beat the teams they are supposed to beat. Thursday night the Kings did that, and they should celebrate.

Keep playing like this and they will be lighting the beam a lot more this season.