The Los Angeles Clippers are hoping to build on the team’s best playoff push in franchise history. However, Paul George and the Clippers continues to move through the 2021-22 season without star forward Kawhi Leonard as he recovers from a surgically-repaired ACL.
Kawhi Leonard undergoes surgery to repair a partially torn ACL
Last year’s playoffs saw the Clippers reach the conference finals for the first time in franchise history.
However, the monumental feat included Leonard suffering a partially torn ACL in his right knee during the second-round series against the Utah Jazz. Los Angeles kept the injury details under wraps throughout the playoffs, but the truth finally came to light after undergoing surgery in July.
Despite Leonard’s absence, the Clippers pushed past the Jazz in six games and took the Phoenix Suns to six games in the Western Conference Finals. As Los Angeles moves through the 2021-22 campaign, it brings forth questions concerning the star forward’s return.
Why isn’t Kawhi Leonard playing for the Clippers?
Leonard is facing a lengthy absence as he moves through the rehab process.
Since the surgery, the Clippers have taken the precautionary approach to avoid a setback with the star forward. It featured the team choosing not to place a return date for the two-time Finals MVP. During the team’s media day in September, the 30-year-old voiced he’s taking the day-by-day approach.
“Trying to get healthy is what’s next,” Leonard said via The Washington Post. “The same stuff you usually do for a specific injury — work on it, lift weights, make sure you don’t compensate and that you’re strong and stable. Just follow that path. That’s all I can do. Take it one day at a time.”
The Clippers remain optimistic Leonard can return at some point late in the second half of the season, likely near the playoffs. Keep in mind, he’s working his way back from a severe injury that can take between six months to a year. It may be a partially torn ACL, but it’s a sensitive area that could lead to more issues if not handled properly.
Los Angeles holds the solace that he inked the four-year, $176 million contract, but the team’s championship hopes hinge on his availability.
Paul George must lead the Clippers’ playoff push
With Leonard out for the foreseeable future, it places the onus on the Clippers’ other star to lead the charge.
Paul George is the central offensive focus, a responsibility he’s proven to effectively handle throughout his career. The All-Star forward is excelling in the increased role, ranking second with 28.3 points per game behind shooting 49.2% from the floor and 41.1% from beyond the arc.
George has scored more than 25 points four times, including a pair of 40-point outings. He’s hit at least five 3-pointers four times, surpassing (28) J.J. Redick for the most such performances in franchise history. His 40-point and 10-rebound effort against the Memphis Grizzlies marked the first such stat line from a Clippers player since Blake Griffin in February 2017.
The 31-year-old also remains a highly effective defensive factor level, as his career-high eight steals against the Portland Trail Blazers, making him the first starter since Michael Jordan in April 1993 to record that in 27 minutes or less. The Clippers will need more than George if they hope to push toward the playoffs.
Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard will also need to step up their offensive production to guide the team forward. Los Angeles possesses a veteran-laden roster that will need to right the ship until Leonard returns.