LAST NIGHT IN THE ASSOCIATION: Wednesday night was headlined by Kawhi making his Toronto return, but a few other noteworthy moments occurred.
💍 Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers made their yearly trip to Toronto last night, with this season’s matchup having the added drama of it being Leonard’s first game against the Raptors since leaving the team last summer. Prior to tip-off, Kyle Lowry presented Kawhi with his championship ring as the Toronto crowd serenaded their former player with applause. For more on the Raptors’ championship rings, ESPN broke them down in this great piece. Anyway, Los Angeles won the game 112-92 behind 23 points and five rebounds from Leonard. Toronto has now dropped four of their last five games.
🔥 James Harden dropped 55 points (10 three-pointers) on the Cavs, and (for the Harden haters) he only needed five free-throws to reach that mark. Meanwhile, Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham exploded against the Nets, going off for 40 points on 21 field-goal attempts and 7-of-12 shooting from three. Graham, a Most Improved Player candidate, is now averaging 20 points and 7.6 assists per game on the year.
👑 The Lakers and Bucks, the league’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams in net rating, continue to roll, the latter without their best player, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Both squads now sit at 22-3 on the season. We’re only one week away from the two teams facing off for the first time this season, which should be a fantastic showdown.
BLAZERS STAYING QUIET? There’s been some scuttle lately connecting Kevin Love to the Blazers, but according to general manager Neil Olshey, Portland is going to remain disciplined even as the trade market league-wide starts to heat up. By that he means the team won’t ship away long-term assets or add a huge long-term contract just to make a shortsighted addition now.
🤑 That certainly seems to rule out the Blazers as a potential Love landing spot, considering his enormous four-year, $120.4 million deal.
ONE PORTLAND OPTION: Just because the Blazers don’t want to add long-term salary to their books doesn’t mean they’re going to be totally silent on the trade market. One solid option for Portland could be Thunder swingman Danilo Gallinari, who is on the last year of his contract. We broke down the potential fit here.
KAWHI TALKS FREE AGENCY: Kawhi Leonard says he heavily considered re-signing with Toronto last summer, and that the decision to eventually leave was a very difficult one to make.
FAVORS BEING MONITORED: Teams are keeping an eye on the Pelicans, who are struggling mighty this season, in hopes of getting a shot at trading for veteran big man Derrick Favors. Between injury and the untimely passing of his mother, Favors is having a quiet campaign, averaging just 8.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, but there’s no doubt he can help out playoff-caliber teams when he’s performing at peak capacity.
DAR OPENS UP: The Athletic got Warriors guard D’Angelo Russell to open up about his past, touching on a variety of topics, including his hectic time with the Lakers, how he bounced back with the Nets and what his future may hold.
🤔 For the trade-scuttle fiends, the common belief is that Russell is a likely candidate to get dealt by the trade deadline, but Russell mentions in the piece that he hopes to earn a long-term spot with Golden State. We’ll see if the Warriors feel the same way.
ON ANOTHER KNICKS FAIL: Woj and Ramona Shelburne go behind the scenes on the latest batch of Knicks failures, from the Kristaps Porzingis trade to the David Fizdale tenure to all the free-agent misses in the summer of 2019. If you’re a Knicks fan, shield your eyes.
KNICKS’ NEW MASTERPLAN? According to Stephen A. Smith, the Knicks want to hire Lakers assistant Jason Kidd as their head coach in order to lure Giannis Antetokounmpo to sign with them in free agency. Regardless of who their head coach is, recruiting Giannis, who is on one of the two best teams in the league this season, will be extremely difficult for New York, but it’s worth a shot.
ALL-STAR DOWN AGAIN: Gordon Hayward had to exit Wednesday night’s game against the Pacers with another injury, this time to his head. Luckily, he doesn’t think this one will force him to miss much, if any, time.
TIME HEALS ALL WOUNDS: Dwight Howard is hopeful that Magic fans will be able to get over his ugly departure at some point. On his end, he says he’s already forgiven them for the way they treated him when he first departed them for Los Angeles.
DUNK OF THE YEAR CANDIDATE: Ja Morant absolutely obliterated Aron Baynes with this dunk yesterday. The dude jumped off two feet and switched the ball from his left hand to his right while already in the air. That’s scary stuff.
FIGHT! (SORT OF): The Lakers and Magic got into a little scuffle last night, one that led to the ejections of Jared Dudley and Wes Iwundu. It may seem like nothing, but these days, that’s what passes for a fight in the NBA. The Bad Boys Pistons are laughing somewhere.