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5 Can't-Miss Matchups: Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. LeBron James

The reigning Kia MVP was supposed to meet the young whippersnapper chasing the crown. But the marquee pairing for this week’s edition of can’t-miss matchups — Giannis Antetokounmpo against Luka Doncic — won’t happen Monday because Doncic is out for a key stretch for the Mavs with a sprained ankle.

The upcoming week still shapes up to be a competitive one for Antetokounmpo, who’s also set for a TNT matchup on Thursday against four-time MVP LeBron James:

1. LeBron James vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Last regular season meeting: Mar. 1, 2019

“Washed King” and the Lakers close out a five-game road trip with this Thursday night meeting, and thanks to resurgent play from James, Los Angeles finished last week with its undefeated road record still intact after handing Miami its first home loss of the season on Friday.

James’ teams have dominated the series against Antetounmpo with a 14-4 record, but the Bucks star has captured victories in two of the last three meetings. James committed seven first-half turnovers in addition to missing seven of his first 11 shots before turning things around Friday in the win over Miami with 17 points and nine assists in the second half alone. This game represents the first of a TNT doubleheader that features two of our can’t-miss matchups.

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

LeBron James 14 4 27.6 7.2 6.8
Giannis Antetokounmpo 4 14 21.7 8.5 4.4

2. Jimmy Butler vs. Ben Simmons

Last regular season meeting: Nov. 23, 2019

The former teammates meet up for the second time this season, and hopefully this matchup is more compelling than the Nov. 23 Philadelphia victory.

The last time these two clashed, they combined for 15 points with four turnovers. When they actually guarded each other, neither of them scored a point and combined to shoot 0-for-4. Butler and Simmons matched up against each other more than any other two players on the floor.

There should be some incentive for Butler to perform in his second game back in Philadelphia since departing in free agency, considering the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center booed him in the last game between these teams. In a recent interview with ESPN, Butler said “a lot of things happened on the inside” that led to his departure from the 76ers, adding that “you never really know what happened.”

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

Jimmy Butler 0 2 24.5 5.5 3.0
Ben Simmons 2 0 5.5 5.5 7.5

3. James Harden vs. Kawhi Leonard

Last regular season meeting: Nov. 22, 2019

Two more players from our Kia MVP Ladder check in for the nightcap of a TNT doubleheader with Leonard holding a slight advantage (12-11) in the series between the teams. Harden made history to close out last week, becoming the first player to put together back-to-back 50-point games with 10 3-pointers made in Friday’s win over the Orlando Magic. Harden has produced seven 50-point outings this season, including four in the past eight games, which is significant considering the rest of the league owns a total of five 50-point performances.

Meanwhile, Leonard took Saturday off to rest but should be ready to roll for this one. One concern: Leonard finished last week averaging five turnovers over his last four outings. Harden has won four of the last five matchups with Leonard.

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

James Harden 11 12 27.0 5.5 6.7
Kawhi Leonard 12 11 19.2 6.0 2.4

4. Kristaps Porzingis vs. Al Horford

Last regular season meeting: Jan. 31, 2018

With Luka Doncic expected to miss time due to an ankle injury, Porzingis needs to step up to shoulder a larger load offensively. Dallas enters the week ranked No. 12 in the league in points in the paint (19.7) and fourth in rebounds (47.8). Interestingly, the Mavericks reportedly are looking for another big to play alongside Porzingis.

Horford, meanwhile, returned Sunday after missing Philadelphia’s last two games due to left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness and looked somewhat rusty, shooting 5 of 15 from the field and 0 of 6 from 3-point range. Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said it will take Horford some time to get acclimated to playing extended minutes again, but 27 minutes after a two-game absence represents a decent start for the 33 year old.

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

Kristaps Porzingis 3 6 12.8 6.1 0.8
Al Horford 6 3 14.7 7.8 4.3

5. Clint Capela vs. Deandre Ayton

Last regular season meeting: Mar. 15, 2019

Ayton will be four days removed from a 25-game suspension when the Suns host the Rockets. So, it’s unclear what version of Ayton we’ll see as Suns coach Monty Williams has mentioned the team will ease the big back into action. Williams has said Phoenix will need around 10 games with Ayton to see where they are as a team. So, this matchup definitely counts as one of them with Ayton going head-to-head with Capela, who has pulled down at least 10 rebounds in 16 consecutive outings. Ayton turned over the ball seven times when he last matched up with Capela, who hit 6 of 9 that night for 14 points.

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

Clint Capela 1 0 14.0 11.0 0
Deandre Ayton 0 1 17.0 14.0 0

Underrated matchup: Donovan Mitchell vs. Trae Young

Last regular season meeting: Mar. 21, 2019

Two of the NBA’s young, exciting guards meet up in what should be an electric matchup. With Mike Conley missing time due to a sore hamstring, Utah needs Mitchell to be a facilitator just as much as a scorer.

Young, meanwhile, despite putting up strong numbers offensively this season is reportedly frustrated, and simply needs more help from the supporting cast in Atlanta, which entered the week having dropped 16 of its last 20 games. Young committed five turnovers the last time he and Mitchell clashed, with the Hawks coming away with the victory. Mitchell enters the week averaging 28 points over his last three games.

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

Donovan Mitchell 1 1 24.5 3.5 3.5
Trae Young 1 1 25.5 2.5 10

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

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