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Photo: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the second time in eight games, Kawhi Leonard missed the front end of a Clippers back-to-back, nixing what was supposed to be a battle between the reigning MVP (Giannis Antetokounmpo) and the reigning NBA Finals MVP (Leonard).

The state of play: In his absence, Antetokounmpo (38-16-9) became the sixth player in NBA history with three straight 30-15-5 games, and the Bucks won 129-124.

  • It was entertaining, but it wasn't what fans thought they were getting when they saw Bucks-Clippers on the schedule. And ESPN, which broadcast the game nationally, probably wasn't thrilled.

The backdrop: This is part of Leonard's "load management" plan, which he also used with the Raptors last year. He missed 22 games during the regular season and credited that rest with helping him play 39 minutes a night in the playoffs en route to a championship.

  • The NBA, which can fine teams for sitting healthy players for nationally televised games, approved of Leonard's rest, saying it was "comfortable with the team medical staff's determination that Leonard is not sufficiently healthy to play in back-to-back games."

Why it matters: This is the second straight week that Leonard sat out of ESPN's Wednesday night showcase, elevating the load management debate to the national stage and reflecting poorly on the league's product.

  • One potential solution would be to ensure that no nationally televised games involve back-to-backs, although that would just be masking a problem. At that point, why not just shorten the season and/or eliminate all back-to-backs?

What they're saying: "I believe the league has a long-term problem," said ESPN's Doris Burke. "Kawhi not playing, to me, is ridiculous at this point."

  • "The Clippers obviously have a responsibility to Kawhi and to winning and to long-term, but the league is and should be concerned that their best players are not playing on nights when they're on national television."

The bottom line: Load management flat-out stinks for fans, but unfortunately, it isn't a problem with a clear fix, because the overarching issue is the relative unimportance of the regular season.

Go deeper

Scoop: Garland defends DOJ's handling of Jan. 6 probe

Attorney General Merrick Garland. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Attorney General Merrick Garland will tell the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday that federal prosecutors "are doing exactly what they are expected to do" in seeking accountability for the "intolerable assault" on the Capitol on Jan. 6, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Allies of former President Trump, including Republican congressmen, have criticized the department's treatment rioters charged with crimes, and sought to recast the insurrection as a righteous protest. Garland's testimony with be his first appearance before the panel.

Updated 41 mins ago - World

Police charge man with murder of British MP David Amess

Police outside Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, England, on Oct. 15. Photo: John Keeble/Getty Images

Police said Thursday that Ali Harbi Ali, a 25-year-old British man, has been charged with the murder of David Amess, a Conservative Party lawmaker in the U.K.

The big picture: Last week, the Metropolitan Police declared the fatal stabbing a terrorist incident, saying that they had found "a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism."

46 mins ago - Health

Pfizer booster has 95.6% efficacy against COVID, large study shows

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

A booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 95.6% effective against the coronavirus, compared with those who only had the first two initial doses, according to a large study released Thursday.

Why it matters: The study, which had more than 10,000 participants aged 16 and older, is the first controlled, randomized trial looking at boosters and their effectiveness, the companies said.