Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard plans to warm up for Game 2 vs. Mavericks, setting up potential return

GettyImages 2118637638

LA Clippers All-Star power forward Kawhi Leonard intends to warm up ahead of Game 2 of the Western Conference first-round series against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night after missing the last eight games of the regular season and Sunday’s Game 1 due to right knee inflammation.

Leonard last played on March 31 on the road against the Charlotte Hornets and was listed as questionable for Game 2.

The Clippers won Game 1 without Leonard, defeating the Mavericks 109-97 to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Leonard, a six-time All-Star and two-time Finals MVP, was on the bench with his teammates and coaches while Amir Coffey started in his place. Clippers led by as many as 29 points, but only used an eight-man rotation, a sign that the Clippers planned to introduce Leonard at some point in the series.

“I just thought we’d do a great job of just staying together, sticking together and holding down until 2 comes back,” All-Star Paul George said after Sunday’s win, referring to Leonard’s jersey number.

Leonard joined the Clippers on the floor for shootaround Tuesday morning. On Monday, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said Leonard would go through practice, which was noncontact for the entire team with one day in between the first two games of the series.

Last Thursday, president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said Leonard had progressed in his recovery from knee inflammation, but that the inflammation “needs to continue to reduce so he can do functional basketball movements.”

That critical step appears to have been made over the last day. Though there was no contact for Monday’s walkthrough, Leonard had progressed to “basketball movements,” Lue said. That came after Lue said Leonard had been on the court in the days leading up to Game 1, when the Clippers ruled Leonard questionable but also informed players to prepare to play without him.

Leonard is coming off one of his best seasons, returning to All-Star status for the first time in three years. He played in 68 games, his most since 2017, and he had career highs in minutes per game (34.3), field goal percentage (52.5) and total dunks (76).

Leonard’s right knee has been injured and operated on twice since the 2021 postseason. He missed the last six playoff games for the Clippers due to a partially torn ACL suffered in Game 4 of the 2021 Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz. Leonard missed the entire 2021-22 season after surgery to repair the ACL, and the Clippers lost two games in the Play-In Tournament, failing to make the playoffs.

Last year, Leonard injured his right knee and did not play after Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals against the Phoenix Suns; the team listed him with a right knee sprain but revealed after the Clippers were eliminated that Leonard had a torn meniscus.

While the concern with Leonard’s knee has led to questions about his previous injuries, Frank has said that Leonard’s surgically repaired knee is “structurally sound” and that the Clippers will not risk Leonard or any other player’s health if there is a risk for future injury. Frank also said that Leonard’s status was not an effort of gamesmanship with the series against the Mavericks starting.

“You get through the steps of where the swelling is, at an acceptable level and then you start the ramp up, you do some exercises in the performance room, you start doing court work and then where you get to a point where you’re able to go full speed contact type work,” Frank said.

This has already been a notable month for Leonard off the court. He made the 2024 U.S. men’s Olympic team last week. (Lue will be an assistant coach.) And Leonard unveiled the latest edition of his signature shoe at New Balance, the Kawhi IV, of which goes on sale Thursday with two new colorways.

Tuesday would mark Leonard’s first playoff game at home in front of a full-capacity crowd since joining the Clippers in 2019. The 2020 playoffs were played in the Florida bubble, and the six home playoff games prior to Leonard’s knee injury occurred in front of limited-capacity crowds due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Required reading

(Photo: Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top