NBA stars Ben Simmons, Kawhi Leonard and Jamal Murray all return to the court for the first action in more than a year.

The NBA preseason is rarely relevant. Stars are either sitting out or playing limited minutes. Nobody cares about the result. And unlike the NFL, roster spots on the back end are usually decided in the offseason with only an occasional slot dictated by preseason performance. For the most part, these games have little impact on the regular season that follows.

But Monday featured perhaps the most important night in NBA preseason history. Three players — all of whom were missed last season — are all back on the floor for their three respective teams. Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers, Ben Simmons of the Brooklyn Nets and Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets all played in their first professional basketball games in over a year, and if that wasn’t enough, the Los Angeles Lakers were also showing off . Their new roster under first head coach Darvin Ham.

So let’s jump right in and check out each of Monday’s top stories.

The Ben Simmons Experience

We got a little bit of everything from Simmons in the Nets’ loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Yes, some of his ball wizards showed up with this great dime.

We also saw him hit two free throws and get booed in his own building.

In retrospect, the backlash should have been pretty predictable. After all, Nets fans aren’t known for packing their arena, and Philadelphia is only a short drive away. Considering the cheap prices of preseason tickets, there were probably quite a few Philadelphia fans in the stands for the game. In a more typical game, Simmons will likely be supported by a friendlier crowd.

Overall, his performance was mixed. He remains an incredibly reluctant scorer, and Philadelphia scored at will in the spurt, but no one expected the old Simmons to show up on the first night of the preseason. He and his new teammates will take time to figure out how to coexist. Those teammates seem eager to do their part. Kyrie Irving was remarkably gracious in allowing Simmons to play point guard early on. If this is the alignment Brooklyn plans to run with this season, Simmons will have plenty of chances to prove himself as a netminder.

Murray looks sharp

Does he look like a guy coming off a torn ACL?

In one clip, we see Murray’s explosiveness, his ability to change directions and his craft as a scorer. Murray scored 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting in 15 minutes of action, and for now, that’s all we can expect from Murray. Coach Michael Malone made it clear that he’ll start the season with a minutes limit likely to land in the 20s, and given the limited rewards of effort in the preseason, 15 is likely to be the limit for the next two weeks.

But Murray made an early impression in his first action since April 2021. With Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. on the roster, Denver won’t ask Murray to carry the load that most star guards do. If he can build on that performance, the Nuggets will be just fine.

Kawhi’s return is up and down

It was an uneven night for Kawhi Leonard. He started things off in style by drilling a 3-pointer on the opening possession of the game.

But after that? He went on to miss his next five field goal attempts. He sank his final two plays, including a nice layup that was vintage Kawhi, before calling it a game after 16 minutes. It’s hard to take much from any Leonard preseason game. He’s reserved at the best of times and was never going to put his full athletic ability on display in a meaningless game just to send a message.

We’ll know where Leonard is in his rehab when we see him play real games against real opponents. The same goes for Portland’s Damian Lillard, who played more minutes and took more shots but showed the same rust that Leonard is dealing with after missing most of last season with an abdominal injury.

Looks good in Los Angeles

Things went sideways in the second half when the starts were completed for the night, but there was plenty to like in Darwin Hamm’s managerial debut. The offense was quick and unselfish. LeBron James wasn’t himself when he missed all seven of his field goal attempts, but Russell Westbrook picked up the slack with a subdued but productive first half. At the very least, it showed he still has plenty of firepower.

More importantly, Westbrook only took three shots while dishing out three assists. Judging defense and effort in a preseason game would be foolish, but in one half of the action, Westbrook at least seemed more open to the idea of ​​playing a role rather than running the team. With Kendrick Nunn shining in his return to the floor and Dennis Schroder coming in, the Lakers have more ball-handling guards than they know what to do with. If Westbrook is going to have a spot on this team, it’s going to have to come by playing the kind of unselfish basketball he did Monday night.

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