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5 Can't-Miss Matchups: Kawhi Leonard vs. LeBron James

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

One Christmas Day gift we’re hoping lands under the tree this week is the anticipated matchup between Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James when the Lakers host the Clippers in yet another battle for L.A. (8 ET, ESPN/ABC).

Leonard should be ready to go after a couple days of rest following a Sunday loss in Oklahoma City. James’ status is uncertain, though, after he suffered a strained thoracic muscle last week that kept him out of the Lakers’ 128-104 loss Sunday to the Denver Nuggets.

Here’s a closer look at that and a few more matchups you shouldn’t miss:

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1. Kawhi Leonard vs. LeBron James

Last regular season meeting: Oct. 22, 2019

Leonard closed last week by returning to San Antonio for just the third time since leaving the Spurs via a trade in 2018. He also won at AT&T Center for the first time as a visitor behind 26 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and four steals in just 27 minutes of near-surgical precision. Clippers coach Doc Rivers said “it was the sharpest I’ve ever seen him,” which would seem to bode well for a matchup against James. He played in two games with a thoracic muscle strain before the Lakers listed him doubtful for Sunday’s loss to the Nuggets.

In their first matchup of 2019-20, Leonard got the better of James as the Clippers won 112-102 in the season-opener for both teams. Leonard finished with 30 points on 10-for-19 shooting while also adding six rebounds, five assists and two steals. James had a near triple-double in that game (18 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) as the two stars guarded each other for about 2 minutes apiece. (Danny Green guarded Leonard the most on Oct. 22, while Mo Harkless guarded LeBron the most for the Clippers.)

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

Player W L PPG RPG APG
Kawhi Leonard 7 3 22.4 7.2 3.9
LeBron James 3 7 24.2 6.4 7.4

2. Ben Simmons vs. Kendrick Nunn

Last regular season meeting: Dec. 18, 2019

Ten days after the Heat handed Philadelphia its first home loss of the season, the 76ers face Miami on the road. The teams are 1-1 in their season series, but the last game featured some drama involving Simmons and Nunn, who scored a game-high 26 points in that win. Tobias Harris hit a 3-pointer for Philadelphia with 25.5 seconds remaining to make the score 106-104, and Nunn subsequently missed a pair of free throws with Simmons coming up with the rebound. He advanced the ball and opted out of what appeared to be a prime shot to drive to the rack against Nunn to tie the game. Instead of attacking, Simmons dished to Al Horford, who missed an open 3 from the wing — a decision Simmons took some heat for.

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

Player W L PPG RPG APG
Ben Simmons 1 1 10.5 7.0 6.5
Kendrick Nunn 1 1 16.0 3.5 3.5

3. Jrue Holiday vs. Damian Lillard

Last regular season meeting: Jan. 18, 2019

Trade rumors involving Holiday led to Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin explaining in an in-game interview last week the team is “clearly not” looking to move Holiday. With that pressure off Holiday, he can focus on what’s proven to be a formidable foe in Lillard (who has won three straight games vs. the Pelicans’ guard). The last time these two met, Lillard lit up New Orleans for 41 points. With the Pelicans dropping 14 of their last 15, things don’t ease up here.

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

Player W L PPG RPG APG
Jrue Holiday 6 12 19.0 4.7 6.4
Damian Lillard 12 6 26.1 4.4 6.1

4. LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Kristaps Porzingis

Last regular season meeting: Nov. 18, 2019

Kia MVP candidate Luka Doncic hasn’t played since spraining his right ankle on Dec. 14, but his absence has paved the way for Porzingis to recapture his game. Porzingis has logged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in four of his last five games and his four-game run of 20-10 efforts from Dec. 14-20 was the first such string of his career. He faces a familiar foe in Aldridge, who had won three straight matchups until Nov. 18, when the Porzingis posted 18 points and 10 rebounds in a 117-110 win.

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

Player W L PPG RPG APG
LaMarcus Aldridge 5 2 19.9 7.9 1.9
Kristaps Porzingis 2 5 16.9 9.0 1.1

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Al Horford

Last regular season meeting: Feb. 21, 2019

Horford and Antetokounmpo waged some competitive battles when the former played for the Boston Celtics. In those outings, Horford and Antetokounmpo fought to a 7-7 series tie. Horford and his current team, the Philadelphia 76ers, are 5 1/2 games behind the Bucks in the East standings. The last time Antetokounmpo and Horford squared off, the reigning Kia MVP had 30 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.

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

Player W L PPG RPG APG
Giannis Antetokounmpo 7 7 23.3 9.4 3.4
Al Horford 7 7 17.1 7.9 4.0

Underrated matchup: Dejounte Murray vs. Ja Morant

Last regular season meeting: Nov. 11, 2019

Two bright, young, star point guards of the future in the same division go head-to-head for the second time this season. But this time around, you should expect much better stats from these players. In the first meeting, Murray was playing on a minutes restriction, which has since been lifted. Morant was still adjusting to life in the NBA in just his ninth career game. Murray is one of the league’s better defenders, and you’d think his length would give Morant trouble until you check out this clip and realize the Grizzlies’ youngster can fly.

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

Player W L PPG RPG APG
Dejounte Murray 0 1 4.0 6.0 4.0
Ja Morant 1 0 9.0 4.0 3.0

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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 .

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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