An early-season showdown between two clubs expected to contend for the NBA title will be missing a key component Wednesday.
When the Los Angeles Clippers play host to the Bucks, the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, will be on the floor. However, the reigning NBA Finals MVP, Los Angeles forward Kawhi Leonard, will sit out.
The Clippers are following the plan that the Toronto Raptors used successfully last year with Leonard, having him sit out occasional games for "load management." The Wednesday contest will mark the second time Leonard has sat in Los Angeles' first eight games.
The other time Leonard rested, the Clippers lost 110-96 to the Utah Jazz on Oct. 30 in Salt Lake City. It was one of just two Los Angeles defeats this season.
Leonard's play Sunday helped the Clippers overcome a sluggish offensive performance in a 105-94 victory over the Utah Jazz in Los Angeles. After managing just five points on 1-of-9 shooting in the first half, Leonard cranked it up in the second by scoring 25 of his 30 points. His 18 points in the fourth quarter allowed Los Angeles to pull away down the stretch.
"With me, it's just about taking advantage of the moment and not shying away, just keep going to your spots and shooting and keep being aggressive for the team and don't shy away, pretty much. That's what I take my pride in," Leonard, who leads the team in scoring (29.3), rebounds (7.3), assists (5.7) and steals (2.3), told reporters.
Leonard made just 9 of 26 shots and 2 of 8 3-pointers against the Jazz, while the Clippers connected on 39.1 percent of their attempts overall. They also missed 25 of 32 3-pointers
But the Clippers' ability to prevent the Jazz, who shot 39.7 percent, from mounting a late run paid dividends. Los Angeles outscored Utah 40-25 in the fourth.
"It's about defense," Leonard said. "When you hold a team under 100 points in this day and age in the NBA I think (that) is great. That's what happened (Sunday). We grinded it out and got a win."
The Bucks opened their four-game road trip Monday with a 134-106 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were without suspended center Karl-Anthony Towns.
Antetokounmpo finished with 34 points on 14-of-19 shooting to go with 15 rebounds and six assists. Khris Middleton tied a season high with 26 points, and Eric Bledsoe added a season-best 22 points and added nine rebounds for Milwaukee.
After leading by seven at the half, the Bucks overwhelmed the Timberwolves in the second half with a 70-49 blitz.
"We just want to play our game from the jump," said Bledsoe, who also had six assists, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We don't want to wait until the fourth quarter to do what we do. We want to start early and wear teams down because we're so deep."
In seven games, the 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.7 points, 14 rebounds and 7.4 assists. He is shooting 61.2 percent from the field. Middleton is the club's second-leading scorer at 19.4 points per game and is shooting 51.5 percent from the floor and 41.3 percent on 3-pointers.
"When everybody's hitting on all cylinders, we're a tough team," Middleton said. "We're already a tough team but when you got everybody hitting shots, everybody making plays, everybody guarding the way they're supposed to it just makes things so much easier."
The Bucks are averaging a league-best 121.3 points per game.