1. Klay’s return date is finally set
The Golden State Warriors have officially announced that five-time All-Star guard Klay Thompson will return to action at home on Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It’s been a long journey for Thompson—the last time he saw action, COVID-19 did not exist yet. And his return couldn’t have come at a better time for the Warriors. They have fallen behind the Phoenix Suns for the best record in the NBA and are 2-3 in their last five games.
Their 29-9 record is a bit misleading because they’ve had the 7th worst offense since December 1st (falling to 10th in offensive rating for the season after being a top 2 team for much of the first two months). Stephen Curry continues to have the worst shooting season of his career and it may be time to once again sound the Mitch Richmond cliff alarm bells—seriously this time.
So, what to expect in Klay’s debut?
First, he’ll be starting, according to Steve Kerr. “Klay will start when he comes back. I’m not gonna mess around, bring him off the bench or any of that.” In anticipation of Thompson’s imminent return, the Warriors have already moved Jordan Poole to the bench upon his return from the health and safety protocols on January 1.
Second, he’ll be under strict minutes restriction. “My guess is 15 to 20 minutes and then we just build him up from there and work around him,” Kerr told reporters. This is right around the 18-minute plan that Thompson mentioned in a separate interview, “We got such a great, deep team. I don’t need to come back and shoulder a huge load. We’re so deep and talented that I can ease into things, which I’m very grateful for.”
Third, it is unlikely that he plays on back-to-back games. “I think there is a good chance we will keep him out of back-to-backs to start,” Kerr said.
As to how Klay looks on the floor, we’ll just have to wait until tip-off.
2. Woj 3:16
Woj doubled down on the Jan. 9 date early this week:
Shams only confirmed it yesterday:
You know what that means? Woj just whooped Charania’s ass and now holds the undisputed NBA Insider championship belt.
And that’s the bottomline cause the Wojmeister said so!
3. Good news for Kawhi and the Clippers
Kawhi Leonard is reportedly ahead of schedule in his rehab from a torn ACL, according to TNT’s Chris Haynes.
Haynes says there is a “strong possibility” Leonard could return this season, and the Clippers aren’t too concerned about the playoff seeding. They’re currently 19-21 on the season and sitting on a play-in spot.
Obviously, they feel that with Leonard in the lineup, they can compete with anyone. But for their sake, they should try to avoid Golden State, Phoenix, and Utah in round 1.
4. Bad news for Dame and the Blazers
Damian Lillard is once again out due to an abdominal injury, and there are some concerns about what it could mean moving forward.
Bleacher Report’s Sean Highkin asked Chauncey Billups about the possibility of shutting Lillard down for an extended period, and the Blazers coach responded that there will be a meeting “soon” to talk about Lillard’s injury and how it’ll be handled going forward.
Portland is currently 14-24, a game out of the final spot in the play-in tournament. That is far from the expectations the team had coming into the season, and it looks like they may be prepared to throw in the towel this season.
Resting Lillard makes sense regardless of whether the Blazers think they can still compete with him or decide to rebuild. Making sure he is healthy for next season is fairly obvious, but it also preserves his trade value amidst perhaps the worst season of his career.
Pulling the plug this early will also give Portland a shot at landing Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith or Chet Holmgren in July’s draft. Now, if only they can finally decide what to do with CJ McCollum…
5. Tyler Herro’s Balkan death wish
Remember when Tyler Herro wisely made a career decision two months ago? In case you forgot:
Well, it seems that he has a thing for Balkan bigs, as he went after Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic last Wednesday.
Both were ejected from the game and later fined $25,000 each for the scuffle. While many felt Nurkic should have faced a bigger penalty because he threw a swing, the league’s official statement noted that Herro “initiated the altercation” after Nurkic knocked him to the court following a nice, clean screen.
The irony of it is that Herro’s blindside hit mimicked Jokic’s shove on Markieff Morris last November, which had the entire Heat team gangstafied. Except that Morris’s prior hit on Jokic was dirty, while Nurkic’s initial contact with Herro was a legit basketball play.
Who does Herro want next? Boris the Blade?
6. Throwback video of the week
The last time Klay played in an NBA game was Game 6 of the 2019 Finals. He singlehandedly kept the Warriors close in the elimination game after another Finals choke job by Curry.
He had 30 through the first three quarters—including the final two free throws after tearing his ACL late in the third. The Warriors would go on to lose the game and the series to the Raptors, and have not been to the playoffs since.