What’s trending this week in the NBA: Spurs-Leonard woes, tank jobs and a Warriors run
Injuries to John Wall, Kevin Love and DeMarcus Cousins are affecting the NBA playoff races.
And theinjury to Kawhi Leonard might have an impact on the NBA beyond this season.
San Antonio has managed to stay in third place in the Western Conference despite having Leonard for only nine games, missing Rudy Gay for two months until Friday and taking a four-game losing streak into Sunday’s stop at Cleveland.
Since Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said that he doubted Leonard would play again this season, there has been more discussion about the All-Star forwards future in San Antonio.
The Spurs have a culture of stability and Popovich has shown he can improve individual situations without sacrificing the team emphasis, as he did with LaMarcus Aldridge this season. But Sports Illustrated reported a “distance” between the Spurs and Leonard.
If losing Leonard for nothing as an unrestricted free agent in 2019 is a possibility, then trading him must be a consideration in 2018. No matter the injury, Leonard is a 26-year-old who has been defensive player of the year twice, NBA Finals most valuable player and an All-NBA first-team pick twice. The suitors would line up with assets stockpiled like chips pushed to the middle of the table.
Leonard missed training camp, the preseason and the first 27 games because of a right quadriceps injury. He played in nine of the next 17 games, averaging 16.2 points, but has not played again since then.
“I’ll be surprised if he returns this season,” Popovich told San Antonio reporters Wednesday. “We only have X number of games left in the season and he’s still not ready to go. If by some chance he is, it’s going to be pretty late in to the season and it’s going to be a tough decision — how late you bring somebody back. That’s why I’m just trying to be honest and logical. I’ll be surprised if he gets back this year.”
NBA tanking season is in full swing.
Dallas owner Mark Cuban was fined by the NBA for publicly saying that he told players “losing is the best option.”
Chicago traded Nikola Mirotic and started Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba in a lineup with the fruits of its Jimmy Butler trade — Lauri Markannen, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine.
Sacramento has traded and demoted veterans as well as scratched healthy players.
The league’s bottom eight teams started Saturday within three games of each other but Brooklyn can’t be blamed because Cleveland owns the Nets’ unprotected first-round pick.
House calls out James
For the Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James file, former NBA veteran Eddie House claimed that James “quit” during the 2011 NBA Finals when they were Miami Heat teammates and lost to the Mavericks.
“I can’t get over the fact he didn’t show up in Dallas,” House said Thursday on Fox Sports 1’s “Undisputed.” “Not only because I was on the team, but the fact he was the best player and everybody was dependent on him to show up and do what he does, and he was M.I.A. He had a bad series. Jordan never had that. People killed James Harden for having a bad series last year, right? ‘Oh no, he ain’t as good as he is,’ but you’re going to say somebody that quit in the finals, at the end of everything, with all the marbles on the table, that you’re going to say he’s the greatest of all time? I can’t buy it. I can’t buy it for that reason right there.”
Warriors run coming
Houston might be the hottest team in the NBA but Golden State remains the most feared. The been-there, done-that Warriors likely are about to be rejuvenated by the post-break sprint to the finish and the charge of battling Houston for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Golden State, which went 4-4 heading into All-Star break, also has the schedule to do it. Its post-break opponents accumulated a league-low .463 winning percentage before the break.
The Warriors would have to go 21-3 after the break to become the first NBA team to record four consecutive seasons of at least 65 wins.
—Milwaukee’s Giannis Anteokounmpo has a chance to be the sixth player since 1965 to average 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for a season. The others were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Russell Westbrook.
—James is averaging 28.4 points, 11.3 assists and 10.4 rebounds during the current 6-1 Cavaliers stretch that started the night before they traded six players.
—Houston, riding an 11-game winning streak, has made at least 10 three-pointers in 54 consecutive games. That doubles the previous NBA record that Houston set last season. More than half of Houston’s shots this season have been three-pointers (50.6%).
GAME OF THE WEEK
Philadelphia at Washington
Sunday at 5 p.m. PST. TV: ESPN.
Washington carried over its pre-break surge without John Wall, but Philadelphia has been one of the hottest teams in the NBA. The 76ers have moved into position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and maybe even host a first-round series. They won six consecutive games entering Saturday on the strength of Joel Embiid’s double-doubles and defense as well as rookie Ben Simmons’ beyond-his-years play. It was Embiid’s steal and Simmons’ clutch free throws that won a Thursday game at Chicago in which Simmons posted 32 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.