Five 1-on-1 matchups to watch this week (Dec. 3-9, 2019)

NBA.com Global on Dec 03, 2019 06:15 AM
Five 1-on-1 matchups to watch this week (Dec. 3-9, 2019)
NBAE via Getty Images

By Michael C. Wright, NBA.com

Here’s hoping that load management doesn’t again ruin this rematch of the highly-anticipated one-one-one battle we expected to see earlier this season between Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

But if it does, we’ve got several more clashes to choose from, including Saturday’s contest pitting longtime friends LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony against one another for the first time in more than a year.

Here’s a look at this week’s five can’t-miss matchups:

1. Rudy Gobert vs. Joel Embiid
Dec. 3 (PHL time)

Last regular season meeting: Nov. 6, 2019 (Nov. 7, PHL time)

A nice rivalry has blossomed between Gobert, the two-time Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and Embiid, who has finished fourth and second, respectively, the last two years behind Gobert for the award. Even though Embiid was held scoreless last week for the first time of his career, the 76ers entered the weekend having won seven of their last 10 outings, while Utah headed into Sunday’s matchup with wins in six of their last 10.

The last time these two faced off, Embiid dropped 27 points to go with 16 rebounds, and although Gobert fouled out, the Jazz won. Embiid racked up the majority of his production in that game when he wasn’t matched up against Gobert. In 6:42 going head to head against Gobert, Embiid scored 10 points on 2-of-3 shooting, according to NBA Advanced Stats. Embiid made it to the foul line eight times, knocking down six free throws. Flip that matchup around, and you’ll see Gobert held his own against Embiid, scoring 15 points to go with two assists and three turnovers, per NBA Advanced Stats. With Embiid defending, Gobert shot 3-for-10 overall and 1-for-3 on 3-pointers.

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

2. Anthony Davis vs. Nikola Jokic
Dec. 5, PHL time

Last regular season meeting: Nov. 17, 2018

Jokic owns what looks like a lopsided 6-3 advantage in this series, but he hasn’t faced Davis since November of 2018. Back then, the new Lakers big played on a New Orleans Pelicans squad largely devoid of a talented supporting cast. This time, it’s different with the two-loss Lakers entering this week having won 10 of their last 11 games. But don’t sleep on the Nuggets, either, as they carry the second-best record in the West behind the Lakers. Jokic has been victorious in three of the past four matchups featuring two of the NBA’s most talented big men.

Matchup data from NBA Advanced Stats shows Davis has struggled somewhat in one-on-one clashes with Jokic, with the new Laker scoring 10 points, while shooting just 36% when he’s guarded by Jokic. The last time they faced off, Jokic put up 11 points on 5-for-9 shooting with Davis guarding him, per NBA Advanced Stats. He also didn’t commit any turnovers and went to the free-throw line once.

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

3. Kawhi Leonard vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Dec. 7, PHL time

Last regular season meeting: Jan. 31, 2019

Leonard’s load management situation deprived us all of what should have been one of the most anticipated matchups between Kia MVP candidates back on Nov. 6 (Nov. 7, PHL time). The hope this time around is both players are fully healthy and ready to go. Leonard has dominated head-to-head in the regular season, racking up an 8-3 record in stints with the San Antonio Spurs and the Toronto Raptors. Leonard hasn’t yet faced Antetokounmpo as a member of the LA Clippers.

These players last butted heads in the 2019 playoffs, and the Raptors -- behind 2-0 in the East finals -- clearly changed their postseason fate for the better by having Leonard guard Antetokounmpo. Over the first two games of that series, Antetokounmpo averaged 27 ppg and 15.5 rpg while shooting 47.2%. Leonard’s defense on Antetokounmpo over the rest of the series propelled the Raptors to a conference title, as the two-time Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year played a major role in limiting the Bucks star to of 20.5 ppg, 12.5 rpg and 43.5% shooting. Breaking down that matchup even further, Antetokounmpo managed an average of just 3.5 points in Games 3 through 6 with Leonard as the primary defender on 33.3% shooting, according to NBA Advanced Stats.

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

4. Carmelo Anthony vs. LeBron James
Dec. 7, PHL time

Last regular season meeting: Oct. 20, 2018

One of the feel-good stories of this young NBA season, Anthony is finally back in the NBA, and the Portland Trail Blazers entered the week on a three-game win streak with the 10-time All-Star in the lineup. James wasted no time welcoming back his good friend Anthony, the No. 3 overall pick of a 2003 NBA draft that featured the Lakers superstar as the No. 1 pick. Now, the two get a chance to match up for the 34th time in the regular season.

The last time these players faced off was during Anthony’s ill-fated 10-game stint with the Houston Rockets, and Anthony’s team came out victorious with him featured in a limited role. According to matchup data from NBA Advanced Stats, Anthony was the primary defender on James for a little more than two minutes when these players last clashed, and the four-time Kia NBA MVP took only three shots against his good friend, missing them all. Anthony was scoreless when matched against James, too. But he never took a shot in what turned out to be a very brief one-on-one battle. Interestingly, the players in five postseason matchups against one another each average 27.8 ppg, with James’ teams running off a 4-1 record in those games. This one is worth checking out because it might turn out to be one of the last opportunities we get to see these close friends and NBA legends go head to head.

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

5. Devin Booker vs. James Harden
Dec. 8, PHL time

Last regular season meeting: March 15, 2019

Two of the NBA’s most electrifying shooting guards get together for this one with Booker looking to make up some ground in this series. Harden holds a 9-1 edge in this matchup and nearly dropped a triple-double (41 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists) when he last faced Booker last March. Perhaps the most impressive stat of that night was Harden’s six steals in Houston’s win.

Head-to-head, these players haven’t matched up as much as you’d expect. According to data from NBA Advanced Stats, when Booker has served as the primary defender on Harden in their last two matchups, the Houston star scored six points on 3-of-5 shooting, while dishing a pair of dimes. The data also tells us that when Harden guards Booker, he might want to protect the 3-point line. Harden managed to force a couple of Booker turnovers in their last two meetings, but the Suns guard scored 8 points and added an assist, knocking down 2 of 2 from deep while also getting to the free-throw line to sink a pair. Harden averages 2.1 steals in his last 10 games against the Suns.

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

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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