The Los Angeles Clippers have been playing some of their best basketball lately. In their past 17 games, they have a 14-3 record and seem to be peaking right as the playoffs approach. Unfortunately, for the time being, they'll have to attempt to keep their momentum going without their best player. Kawhi Leonard will miss the next week dealing with foot soreness, and will be re-evaluated from there.
"He wants to play, he wants to get out there," Clippers coach Ty Lue told reporters Tuesday. "But it's just smart to do it (rest him) right now. With the doctors and sports science guys and the trainers we have, sometimes we got to protect the players from themselves. And right now, we are doing the right thing by Kawhi."Everybody says he wants to play and be out there for his teammates," Lue added. "But right now, it's not the smartest thing to do with him feeling it and trying to manage it for the most part for a while now. We just got to be smart about it."
Leonard has missed 13 games this season, but the Clippers have managed his health somewhat more aggressively on balance. The Clippers held him out of at least one game in each of their back-to-backs last season, but this season, have allowed him to play both games when possible. His athleticism seemed to be improving as the season wore on, with a recent stretch of big dunks uncharacteristic of Leonard. But prior to returning against Minnesota on Sunday, he had missed the previous four Clippers games, and now, he'll miss the next handful as well. The goal for the Clippers is to keep Leonard healthy for the postseason.
"He gives us feedback," Lue said. "And the sports science and medical team, they do a great job of just seeing what's right for the player, that's the most important thing. Our most important thing is making sure Kawhi's healthy going down the stretch. And right now we just feel that we're just being cautious just to make sure he's as healthy as early as be can be going into the postseason."
Paul George has been terrific as Leonard has dealt with these issues. He is averaging 32.8 points on 51 percent shooting from behind the arc over his past six games, and the Clippers as a whole have surpassed the Brooklyn Nets for the NBA's No. 1 ranked offense.
But as they saw last season, chemistry matters. Virtually every member of the Clippers has dealt with some injury or another this season, and they've integrated new players like Serge Ibaka, Nic Batum and Rajon Rondo on the fly. The Clippers had already begun to coalesce before losing Leonard. They'll need him back soon if they plan to keep up their strong recent play.