As we slide into the second half of the 2019-20 NBA campaign, the Los Angeles Clippers, led by Kawhi Leonard, currently sit at No. 4 in the Western Conference at 30-13 and will likely spend the backend of the season jockeying seeds with the likes of the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets.
They’ve been pretty successful at the midway point of the year, but they’ve also had their fair share of difficulties as well.
Along with Leonard’s customary load management, the Clippers have suffered a rash of injuries. Paul George, Landry Shamet, Maurice Harkless and Patrick Beverley, are all amongst the players that have missed time with ailments, preventing the Clippers from having their full roster intact for virtually all of the season.
There has been only one game where Los Angeles had all of their guys available to play and that was in their Christmas Day victory over the Lakers. As the Clippers eye what they hope to be their deepest playoff run in franchise history, they hope to have the benefit of good health down the stretch.
Recently the Clippers have been waging war without Paul George, who has been nursing a hamstring injury but is hopeful to return on the Clippers’ current five-game road trip. George may even possibly rejoin the team tonight when their away tilt kicks off in Dallas.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Paul George, who missed the last five games with a hamstring injury, would be joining the Clippers probably Tuesday in Dallas. The hope is that George can play on this trip that still goes to Atlanta, Miami, Orlando and at the Lakers.
— Brad Turner (@BA_Turner) January 20, 2020
Good news for the Clippers is that Leonard has been humming over his last five games, averaging 36 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.8 steals on 55% from the field and 43% from downtown. Leonard is the first Clipper to score 30 points or more in five consecutive games since World B. Free’s 11-game, 30-point spree in 1980.
It should be no surprise that the Clippers are 4-1 over that stretch, with their only loss coming on the road to the Nuggets, who are another obvious titan in the battlefield that is the NBA’s Western Conference.
Throughout the season so far, Leonard has played in four/five-game increments, and it’ll be interesting to see how far the Clippers elect to stretch out this current streak he’s on.
Give Leonard all the flack you want about his load management practices, but he’s just exercising a longterm mentality. He understands the importance of being cognizant of his health as well as embracing the ups-and-downs of the NBA season, and how both can contribute to his team’s growth in the long-run.
Don’t be in a rush to win these games,” Leonard said. “Enjoy every moment of this. Enjoy the process. Use it as a learning tool when we get down in the trenches … We just can’t be in a rush. Be patient. It’s hard to win a championship. The pressure isn’t even on us now.”
As noted in Brian Windhorst’s piece which is linked above, the Clippers’ “death” lineup of Lou Wiliams, Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and Montrezl Harrell have only shared the floor for 46 minutes together, a tiny amount of time for a unit that projects to be on the court for critical postseason minutes.
Leonard and George have only played in 18 contests together so far this season, lagging behind other duos such as LeBron James/Anthony Davis and James Harden/Russell Westbrook. Still, it would be wise to bet that their talents will blend by playoff time, maybe even to the tune of a Western Conference Finals appearance.
Recently Leonard has been issuing a reminder to the league about who he is and what he’s single-handily capable of. Yesterday he was named the Western Conference’s Player of the Week, the first time this year he’s received such honors. It would also be wise to expect Leonard to yet again be named an NBA All-Star.
A few days ago (to myself) I posed the question if Leonard could lead this Clippers team to the NBA Finals without George, similar to how he pioneered the Toronto Raptors’ run last year.
It would be tough to slay James and Davis’ Lakers but is it truly out of the realm of the unthinkable?
Harping on hypotheticals doesn’t make sense and as a Lakers fan, watching the way Leonard has been cooking recently spooks me. Still, it’s difficult for me not to admire because Kawhi has genuinely been one of my favorite players since he’s stepped into the league.
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers acknowledges that his team still has some wrinkles to flesh out, but I’m sure to him it’s comforting knowing that, as long as his team is healthy, he has some mega talent to lean on.
That is what we are. We are a work in progress. We got to keep getting better.”
For Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers, it’s all about the basketball that takes place in the Spring. Barring any more health setbacks, Los Angeles will be positioned to make a serious championship run as the days of the regular season dwindle down.
Especially if these types of recent performances become commonplace from Kawhi Leonard as he triggers his systems into playoff overdrive.