Five 1-on-1 matchups to watch this week

Rematch of Kawhi vs. Giannis headlines 5 intriguing player showdowns

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright NBA.com

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Nov 4, 2019 8:21 AM ET

Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo will face off on Wednesday.

Stephen Curry’s broken hand sours what should have been a sweet matchup against All-Star guard Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets on Wednesday. But don’t worry, because this week’s schedule presents plenty of other intriguing 1-on-1 battles.

Here, we take a look at five of them:

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Kawhi Leonard

• Wednesday, Nov. 6 (10 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Last regular season meeting: January 31, 2019

(Editor's note: Kawhi Leonard will miss the game for load management reasons.)

Doesn’t seem like it, but these Kia MVP candidates have matched up on 11 occasions, with Leonard dominating head-to-head to the tune of a regular-season record of 8-3 during his time with the San Antonio Spurs and the Toronto Raptors. This time, Leonard leads a defensive-minded LA Clippers squad with better defenders, such as Patrick Beverley, thus making Antetokounmpo’s task perhaps even more difficult than in years past.

Let’s remember that in the playoffs last season, Toronto -- down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals -- drastically changed the trajectory of that series by assigning Leonard the responsibility of guarding Antetokounmpo. Leonard slowed down the MVP-to-be, with the Raptors winning the next four games on the way to capturing a title.

Antetokounmpo averaged 27 points and 15.5 rebounds while shooting 47.2% in Games 1 and 2 of that series. But the rest of the way, the Greek star averaged 20.5 points and 12.5 rebounds while shooting 43.5%. When you narrow it down to the specific matchup, in Games 3 through 6, Antetokounmpo averaged just 3.5 points and shot 33.3% from the field when Leonard was his primary defender, per NBA Advanced Stats.

This is a matchup that could turn out to be the new version of LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant, and you best believe we’re here for it.

Head-to-head stats below are via Basketball Reference.

PlayerWLPPGRPGAPG
Giannis Antetokounmpo3815.58.63.0
Kawhi Leonard8319.26.42.2


2. Russell Westbrook vs. Ja Morant

• Monday, Nov. 4 (8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass)

(Editor's note: Westbrook was later slated to miss the game for rest reasons. The next Morant-Westbrook matchup will come on Jan. 14.)

Morant capped off an incredible first week of his regular-season career by going hard at Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving, recording 30 points and nine assists on the way to a 134-133 Memphis Grizzlies’ overtime win. The No. 2 pick out of Murray State scored 17 points in the fourth quarter of that outing, and even locked down Irving on a critical isolation situation on the final play of regulation. Morant could also be seen jawing with Irving on occasion in the fourth quarter, before serving up the dime to Jae Crowder for the game-winner.

As euphoric an experience as that was for Morant, he’s focusing in on what’s coming to Memphis tonight in former MVP Russell Westbrook, who happens to be Morant’s favorite player. The 6-foot-3 guards are similar, posing freakish athleticism, pure aggressiveness and a genuine ability for ball-distribution.

Westbrook likes to post up younger and smaller guards, but Morant is likely ready for the challenge. Asked about this matchup during the Draft process, Morant said it’ll be a game in which your “idol becomes your rival."

3. Joel Embiid vs. Nikola Jokic

• Friday, Nov. 8 (9 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass)
Last regular season meeting: February 8, 2019

Nikola Jokic has yet to win a game (0-3) against Joel Embiid.

Dominant play down low isn’t dead despite the recent small-ball revolution, and this one should be entertaining with Embiid two games back from his suspension for an altercation with another All-Star big man. Individual performances aside, Jokic’s team hasn’t fared well recently in games against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Although both of these squads are considered potential contenders in their respective conferences, Jokic has yet to taste victory in a head-to-head matchup against Embiid, who owns a 3-0 record against him. Embiid shot just 4-for-17 the last time these two met, but the 76ers captured the victory despite Jokic logging another one of his trademark triple-doubles (27 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists).

It likely won’t be as physical a matchup as Embiid vs. Karl-Anthony Towns, but there’s certainly a level of intrigue heading into a battle between two All-NBA centers.

Head-to-head stats below are via Basketball Reference.

PlayerWLPPGRPGAPG
Joel Embiid3019.310.32.7
Nikola Jokic0322.08.06.0


4. Damian Lillard vs. Kyrie Irving

• Friday, Nov. 8 (10 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass)
Last regular season meeting: February 27, 2019

Elite point guards and two of the top three leading scorers in the NBA square off on Friday night. The battle is historically won by Lillard, who enters the week averaging 29.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 7.8 assists. He owns a record of 6-3 in these head-to-head matchups. Meanwhile, without Kevin Durant in the mix, Irving has asserted himself in Brooklyn, averaging 30.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists.

The pair of talented guards have identical numbers when facing off against each other, scoring 24.9 points apiece. The last head-to-head matchup between these two was also one of the closest, with Lillard outdueling Irving by scoring 33 points (Irving scored 31) to lead Portland past Irving’s former team, the Boston Celtics. The most lopsided outcome between these two came in 2015 when Irving was a Cleveland Cavalier, and poured in 55 points to Lillard’s 14.

Head-to-head stats below are via Basketball Reference.

PlayerWLPPGRPGAPG
Kyrie Irving3624.92.85.0
Damian Lillard6324.94.87.1


5. Devin Booker vs. Tyler Herro

• Thursday, Nov. 7 (9 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass)

Like Morant and Westbrook, Herro once pointed out Booker as his dream 1-on-1 matchup in the NBA. This clash could see plenty of offensive fireworks, depending on how much on-court time they’ll see matched up together. Herro has been efficient, effective and downright crafty to start his rookie season. His defense is still a work in progress, which Booker might look to exploit.

Coming into the league, the 19-year-old Herro was believed to possess similar strengths and weaknesses to the Phoenix Suns guard. Like Booker, Herro is a late lottery pick and a one-and-done from the University of Kentucky. He's interestingly modeled his game after Booker, and maybe could experience a similar ascension one day. He recently set the Miami Heat franchise record for points off the bench (29) by a rookie against the Atlanta Hawks.

 
Tyler Herro catches fire in a win over the Hawks.


Underrated matchup of the week

Kristaps Porzingis vs. Mitchell Robinson

• Friday, Nov. 8 (8:30 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass)

(Editor’s picks: Mitchell Robinson will not play after suffering a concussion. The Knicks play the Mavericks again on Nov. 14.)

Porzingis is likely to be highly motivated to put on a show against his former team, and that includes whatever individual matchup is in front of him. He appears to be winding into form quickly after missing all of last season recovering from a torn ACL, and he's starting to show some chemistry with reigning Kia Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic.

Porzingis' offensive prowess will certainly be tested against Robinson, one of the league’s most intriguing young players, due to rare fast-twitch explosiveness for a big man. Porzingis entered the week averaging 6.5 attempted 3-pointers per game, but Robinson is one of the league’s best at blocking long-range shots.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him  here , find his archive  here  and follow him on  Twitter .

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