The LA Clippers have their two star players, small forward Kawhi Leonard and shooting guard Paul George, back in the lineup together Monday against the Charlotte Hornets for the first time in two weeks. Here’s what you should know:
- Leonard is returning from a sprained right ankle suffered in a home win against the Utah Jazz on Nov. 21.
- In the game before that on Nov. 19 against the San Antonio Spurs, George did not play after halftime due to right knee soreness and was later diagnosed with a right hamstring tendon strain.
- Leonard and George missed the last six games. The Clippers went 2-4 in the games both Leonard and George missed since Nov. 23.
- Luke Kennard is also set to return after suffering a right calf strain in the first quarter of the team’s road loss against the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 15.
Friday was the first time that the Clippers had back-to-back days off in three weeks, allowing George and Leonard to return to a full practice, and coach Tyronn Lue declared that both would be upgraded to questionable for Saturday’s home game against the Kings. Lue cautioned that the return of Leonard and George would come with adjustments for the team, especially since Leonard has only played five games in his first season back from 2021 right knee surgery to repair a partially torn ACL.
Leonard previously returned to the LA lineup on Nov. 17 against the Detroit Pistons after missing 25 days (12 games) due to stiffness in his surgically-repaired right knee. Leonard did not start his first two games of the season but returned as a starter last month, and the Clippers are 4-1 in games Leonard has played. Leonard has yet to reach 25 minutes played in a game this season, and is averaging 10.0 points and 3.4 assists per game.
George had missed only one game this season prior to his leg injury, as he dealt with an illness that forced him to be inactive for an Oct. 25 Clippers road loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder. That was also the same day that Leonard reported stiffness in his knee, starting his period of inactivity. George has been the leader for the Clippers to start the season, averaging 23.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.6 steals, and 2.8 3s. George was the Western Conference Player of the Week recipient for Week 3.
Why Leonard and George returning is important
The return of Leonard and George comes at an important time for three reasons.
- When those two share the floor this season, the Clippers have outscored their opponents by 38 points in only 65 minutes, and the Clippers have won three of the four games in which Leonard and George have played together.
- The Clippers are without another starting wing even after Kennard’s return. Norman Powell suffered a left groin strain in the fourth quarter of the team’s road win against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 29 and has been out since.
- The Clippers have a travel-heavy December schedule. Monday’s game is the start of a four-game road trip. They will also end December with a five-game Eastern Conference road trip.
What Clippers’ starting lineup could look like
Lue’s preferred starting lineup is Reggie Jackson at point guard, George and Leonard on the wings, Marcus Morris Sr. at power forward, and Ivica Zubac at center. That five-man group has only played 32 minutes together this season, outscoring opponents by 32 points in that time. The best version of the Clippers has Leonard and George on the floor, and there are no questions about the fit of those two players together. The only question is how long can they actually stay on the floor together.
What they’re saying
“It’ll take a little time,” Lue said at practice Friday. “Kawhi coming back, still having a minute restriction. And our back-to-back situations. So it’s going to take a little time, just figuring out the rotations and who plays well with who and trying to figure out how to split Kawhi’s minutes and what’s best for the team and what’s best for him as well.”
(Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today)