Three Things to Know: Kawhi Leonard tweaks shoulder, Spurs fall to Blazers
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) Kawhi Leonard injured again. Apparently not seriously, but still. C.J. McCollum beats Spurs without him. Much like Odysseus just trying to get home, the basketball gods apparently are not done messing with Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs. Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season due to a quad injury, but the last few games he was starting to round back into “top 5 NBA player” form.
Last Friday in Phoenix Leonard tweaked his shoulder again. He was out Sunday in Portland, but after the game coach Gregg Popovich played down the severity of this injury. Let’s hope so. Leonard’s status against the Lakers for Thursday is up in the air. Still, the team is 23-10 without Leonard this season (remember he missed games for rest after his return), they will be just fine.
No Leonard. No Damian Lillard when the Spurs and Trail Blazers met in Portland Sunday, so how about a C.J. McCollum game winner:
LaMarcus Aldridge had 30 points and 14 rebounds on the night, but he missed the game winner and the Portland fans loved that.
2) Josh Richardson completes a late comeback against Jazz with a game-winning layup for Heat. Utah’s Donovan Mitchell is making a serious Rookie of the Year case of late. The young Jazz guard dropped 27 on the Heat Sunday, including a driving layup that had the Jazz up three with :47 seconds left.
He’s also a rookie, and that means sometimes he makes defensive mistakes. He fouled Kelly Olynyk in the act of shooting late, making it a one-point game. Then on the deciding play veteran Josh Richardson shook him with a change of direction in the paint, then Mitchell got hung-up on an Olynyk screen, allowing Richardson to get the ball and essentially go one-on-one with Derrick Favors. Richardson uses a nice little change-of-pace move to create space and gets the shot.
Miami has won four in a row now, all by single digits.
3) Do I have to? Ugh. Okay. Let’s talk Luke Walton and Lonzo Ball. I mostly try to avoid writing about anything LaVar Ball, because I have little use for the Kardashians of the NBA. However, sometimes what he says — no matter how outlandish — becomes something that needs to be addressed because it becomes a thing. His recent criticism of Luke Walton falls into that category — he tapped into a vein of some Lakers fans, ones not used to the ups and downs of rebuilding, watching young teams lose and lose their way a little, who think Walton needs to be more demonstrative and old-school. I’ll give you my thoughts on all this — and what I know from sources and reports — in bullet points.
• Luke Walton’s job is safe.
• I mean completely safe. As in he is not going anywhere, not now and not this summer. Honestly, plenty of people around the league see his uptempo offense, saw this team defend earlier in the season, and think he’s doing a good job.
• LaVar Ball is only as big a distraction as the players in the locker room let him be. Being around the team some this season, my impression is people outside the locker room care far more about what Lavar thinks than people inside the locker room.
• So you’re saying players on a bad team that had lost nine straight (before Sunday) may be frustrated with the coach? Shocking.
• I can guarantee the coach is frustrated with the players’ too.
• Walton should be frustrated with his players. The idea that on an NBA team it’s the coaches job to be some sort of rah-rah motivator is wrong — the players are pros, they are getting massive paychecks, they have to motivate themselves nightly. That is part of their job. The players have to bring it nightly, be professionals, and put in the effort before and during games. The Lakers started to come apart when the trade rumors around the squad flared up — welcome to the NBA life. That can’t get in your head (or KCP’s legal issues for that matter). If the players don’t put in the effort it’s on them far more than the coach. It speaks to a lack of leadership among the players in the locker room who are not holding each other accountable. The coach can vent a little, management should take some blame, but at the end of the day this is mostly on the players.
• Also, well played by Walton to joke he sat Lonzo Ball earlier than usual in the first and third quarters Sunday because his dad “talked s—-.”
• If you are LeBron James, Paul George, or any other big Laker free agent target over the next two years, and you’re looking at LaVar Ball and the impact his noise creates, do you want to still want to sign on?