NBA Injury Report: Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard Plays Through Foot Injury
Kawhi set to play through foot injury
With the 2020-21 NBA regular season now set to enter its last stretch towards the play-in tournament games and the more important contests in the playoffs, contending teams cannot afford to lose their main players due to respective injuries. That is the main reason why Los Angeles Clippers Kawhi Leonard is not bent on missing games from this point on, even though he is currently dealing with an issue in his right foot.
Leonard, who is on his second year with the Clippers, missed the team’s last five games, and nine of the previous ten games. The two-time Finals MVP finally made his return to the court in a disappointing loss to the Denver Nuggets, where he logged in 30 minutes and came up with a decent stat line of 16 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists, including a 7-12 overall clip from the field and a 2-3 clip from the three-point line.
It was an efficient outing for Leonard, but it was obvious that he was not as aggressive as usual in getting his shots and looks from the field. As per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN, Leonard said that he has been playing through the foot injury for a while now, but it is not something significant that would force him to sit out games at this very important stage of the season. It is without a doubt that Leonard is exhibiting a prime example of being a good leader for his squad.
"I'm feeling good. We took the proper steps to get me right, to make sure nothing significant is wrong with me ... so hopefully we can just keep moving up from here. Yeah, I mean, I've been doing it. It's not something that just occurred after the last game. But I'll be all right. I've been through situations like this before.
Just making sure the team sees my face. Just wanted to still be in that motion, be in that rhythm and most importantly letting guys know I'm here and, you know, just let them hear my voice and see my face. You know, I'm back, [we're] just going to have to do it with what we have. We won games before, so we just got to keep this rolling and see the adjustments and the players [who] are going to play in certain situations to help us win games."
Leonard may not be a front-running candidate for the Most Valuable Player plum this season, but it is also true that he is still one of the best superstars in the league right now. Also a two-time Defensive Player of the Year awardee, Leonard is currently putting up an impressive all-around stat line of 25.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.4 blocks per game. Leonard is also norming a career-high 51% overall clip from the field, including an excellent 39% clip from beyond the arc.
His 5.1 assists this season is actually a career-high for the veteran star, which is a great indicator of how consciously he is trying to involve his teammates more on the offensive end of the floor. It also helps that his co-star Paul George is putting up a more efficient performance this season.
George, who is also on his second year with the Clippers, is currently producing tremendous numbers of 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Those are indeed very excellent numbers for a player who is currently the second option in his team. Most importantly, George is producing an efficient set of shooting percentages. The 30-year old small forward is shooting a career-high 47% overall clip from the field, including a stellar 42% clip from the three-point line, which is also a career-high for him.
The whole basketball community already knows what Leonard brings on the floor, especially come playoff time. The elite two-way player has already won two championships, and there is no doubt that of those two successful title runs, he was the best and most efficient player on both ends of the court.
But if the Clippers want to go on a deeper run in the playoffsthis year, they need more from George. As per Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer, it is indeed a good thing that the Clippers have surrounded its two stars with a supporting cast that will provide more leeway for George to demonstrate his unique skill set on the offensive end of the floor. Tjarks also points out that George has been healthier this season, which is giving him a much-needed momentum moving forward.
But it is George’s efficiency that is greatly contributing not just on his individual stat line, but also to the collective success of the powerhouse Clippers this season.
Showcasing George extends to his time with the second unit, where he has been part of an equally dominant lineup (plus-36.4 in 21 minutes) that puts him with three ball handlers in Williams, Luke Kennard, and Reggie Jackson, and a roll man in Zubac. Unlike last season, when George often was a bystander for Williams and Harrell, he now runs pick-and- rolls with Zubac. That group also takes advantage of George’s two-way ability by using him to guard the ball and allowing more offensive- minded perimeter players to hide. George defended Chris Paul and Devin Booker at different times on Sunday in those lineups.
The final change Lue has made is who George is attacking. Another benefit of giving him the ball with more shooting around him is that it allows him to hunt the weakest defender. George, an elite 6-foot-8 shooter who can play on and off the ball, is one of the most difficult covers in the NBA. It doesn’t matter who is guarding him when he’s hot. But it does matter when he’s cold. That’s what stood out in the Clippers’ first-round series against the Mavs last season, when George went through one of the worst shooting stretches of his career. He went 4-for-17 in their Game 2 loss, and took almost all his shots against the Mavs’ best defenders, instead of running pick-and-rolls at players like Luka Doncic and Trey Burke.
As for the Clippers as a whole, there is still a lot of work left to do in the final games of the regular season. With an excellent record of 43 wins against 22 defeats, the Clippers have already clinched a berth in the upcoming playoffs. However, they are still finding themselves in a tight battle for positioning in the postseason.
The Clippers are currently tied with the Denver Nuggets for the third spot in the stacked Western Conference standings, but it is also true that the Nuggets own the tiebreaker advantage between the two teams. If the playoffs were to start today, the 4th-seeded Clippers will be going up against the defending champs, the 5th-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.
That will definitely be something that you want to avoid, especially if you are going to go up against the playoff version of LeBron James and his fellow superstar teammate Anthony Davis. With all the injuries that they have to go through this season, the Lakers plunged downward in the standings, and are currently sporting a record of 37 wins against 28 defeats.
But of course, the Clippers will not be intimated by the defending champs. Whatever team they will face in the playoffs, the leadership of George and Leonard will solidify their chances of winning a seven-game series. As per Law Murray of The Athletic, Clippers head coach Ty Lue said that this is a different team because they have been given more time to prepare and build up their chemistry on both ends of the court.
Lue also said that the biggest difference is that everyone is involved, from practice to film sessions then to the actual games. Lue is only in his first year with the Clippers as a head coach, although he was already was with the team last season as an assistant coach for Doc Rivers, who is now steering Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers to the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
“I think the difference is we have more time. We have eight games, but we have three more times where we have two days rest in between games. So I think we have more time than we had in the bubble. You know we have everybody here. We have some guys injured, but everybody’s here. You know, last year, Trezz (Montrezl Harrell) had the incident, Pat Beverley had the incident, Lou Will had the incident. Some guys wasn’t really there. So we weren’t able to really practice. Those guys weren’t able to see what we’re trying to do going forward. So that made it tough. Even though we have guys out, you know everyone’s still here. Everyone’s at the facility, they’re able to see what we’re doing, they’re able to walk through and just touch the floor and still be around the guys. So that’s the biggest difference.
I just think we just gotta go with who’s healthy right now. Just thinking that’s gonna be a rotation until we get guys back, and then we’ll fill them in. But it’s been hard, you know. Our young guys, our veteran guys, even Nico and PatPat, those guys have really stepped up. Amir, Terance, Luke, those guys really stepped up as well. They got the experience, so it’s a little different than it was last year because we kinda played different lineups because guys were gone and we didn’t have a lot of time to play those guys in those lineups during the regular season. So everybody’s touched the floor, everybody’s played with each other, so I do feel confident about that. But like I said, it is important that we start getting guys back in a timely fashion because we are running out of time.”
But of course, everything will also boil down to how healthy Leonard could be come playoff time. Without his elite presence on both ends of the floor, the Clippers do not have the roster power and depth to keep up with the other true contenders in the West. Aside from the Lakers, Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks are closing in with a record of 36 wins against 28 defeats. Damian Lillard are not far behind as they are also sporting a decent record of 36 wins against 29 defeats.
No matter which team enters in the West playoff picture, there is always a superstar in that squad. That would put pressure in Kawhi to be healthy come playoff time as it is not a secret that he is the best player for the Clippers both on offense and on defense.
As per a separate column written by Law for The Athletic, Lue pointed out to the fact that Kawhi “eased” his approach in his first game back from the foot injury. Lue said that he perfectly understands why Kawhi is being careful in his approach as this will be important for his health moving forward.
“I don’t know if it was fatigue or what. I just thought he really eased into it. He didn’t play at his normal pace of attacking and getting to the basket like he usually does. Haven’t played in nine-10 games, that’s to be expected. But it’s just good to have him back on the floor, and we just build from there.
Kawhi, with his minutes situation, instead of playing the whole first quarter, now we’ve got him playing seven minutes and he’s coming back with the second unit. Usually it’s PG and the second unit. So just trying to figure out those small details, and what to run, and what plays work for that unit with Kawhi being in it. So like I said, good for us to see different lineups and different situations, and just kind of grow from there.”
After their recent loss to Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets, the Clippers will complete their current four-game home stand by hosting Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers, and Julius Randle and the New York Knicks.
They will then finish the rest of the regular season by embarking on a tough four-game road trip. They will first travel to the East Coast to go up again against Lowry and the Raptors, before facing rookie point guard LaMelo Ball and the Charlotte Hornets. They will then go back to the West Coast to face Christian Wood and the Houston Rockets, and Theo Maledon and the Oklahoma City Thunder.