Clippers injury update: Kawhi Leonard questionable vs Denver

As someone who watches the standings closely, Clippers center Ivica Zubac doesn’t need to be reminded of the ways in which this week could influence his team’s ultimate playoff position.

After a loss Wednesday at Phoenix cost the Clippers an opportunity to draw even with the second-seeded Suns, the Clippers enter Saturday night’s matchup against Denver looking over their shoulder at the Nuggets, who sit just half a game back in fourth place, charging hard despite injuries to their backcourt.

The game at Staples Center will determine the tiebreaker in the season series between the Nuggets and Clippers, who have only eight games remaining in the regular season, and the difference between finishing third and fourth in the West could mean meeting the Lakers in the first round. The reigning champions entered Friday in fifth, one game ahead of sixth-place Dallas, though the Mavericks hold their season tiebreaker.

“We got in mind who we might play,” Zubac said, “but right now we’re focused on winning the games we’ve got left.”

Despite losing Jamal Murray to a season-ending knee injury April 12 and fellow guard Will Barton to a hamstring injury April 23, the Nuggets have won eight of nine behind the sustained brilliance of most-valuable-player candidate Nikola Jokic and the playmaking of wing Michael Porter Jr., who has averaged 25.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks while making 50% of his three-pointers since Murray’s injury.

Porter’s play hasn’t been raised as a response to injuries, either; in 27 games since March’s All-Star break, he has made 46% of his threes, taking 6.3 per game, while scoring 22.7 points and grabbing 8.1 rebounds.

“We got to lock into those two guys,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “But we really got to lock in on Michael Porter Jr. because with Barton and Murray out, he is really bringing the team more offensively.”

Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr.'s strong play has helped Denver win eight of its last nine.

Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr.’s strong play has helped Denver win eight of its last nine games and withstand injuries to key players.

(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Lue said he did not know whether Kawhi Leonard will play against the Nuggets, adding the team was waiting to gauge how Leonard, whose sore right foot has sidelined him for five consecutive games, felt and moved during Friday’s walk-through practice.

The Clippers (43-21) have seen progress from guard Patrick Beverley, sidelined since April 9 because of a fractured hand. Beverley joined the road trip in Phoenix this week and was set to be more than a spectator in Friday’s workout.

“It is going to be a mental day, a lot of learning, a lot of teaching so he is going to be involved with everything we run,” Lue said.

The coach described center Serge Ibaka, out since March 15, as “good” after taking part in limited practice in recent days.

“Hopefully he can continue to do more, as far as longer stints for him, getting him ready and better shape,” Lue said.

Lue, who has been either a player or coach in the NBA since 1998, said he is used to seeing players in and out of the lineup throughout a season because of injuries, but “to have this many guys out at the same time is different, you know, and this late in the season, the same thing,” he said.

“In Cleveland, we always thought as long as we’re healthy, we’re in good position. I feel the same way about this team. If we’re healthy, we showed that we can win games, we showed we played well on both sides of basketball, and we had a rhythm. But when guys started going down, they haven’t been back for a while, so it’s been a long time since we had our whole team.”

When: 7 p.m., Saturday
On the air: TV: Bally Sports SoCal, ESPN; Radio: 570, 1330
Update: After Murray’s season-ending knee injury, the Nuggets (42-21) signed guard Austin Rivers to a 10-day contract. Rivers signed a deal through the end of the season Thursday; the former Clipper has appeared in six games, averaging 6.2 points and 2.0 assists while shooting 36%, including 20% on three-pointers.

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