Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard returns against Denver Nuggets – Daily Bulletin


Denver Coach Michael Malone feigned shock when he was informed, during his pregame media availability, that Kawhi Leonard was set to return to action for Saturday’s showdown with the Nuggets.

“Obviously,” Malone said, “anticipated Kawhi being back.”

Tyronn Lue had not been so outwardly certain before practice Friday. He said then that the Clippers were going to evaluate how Leonard — who’d missed nine of the past 10 games, hindered by a sore right foot — looked before making a decision on whether he’d play Saturday in a game with serious playoff positioning consequences (at tip-off, Denver was a half-game behind the Clippers for the third seed).

Leonard’s only game action since April 9 was 23 minutes in a 19-point victory over Minnesota, to which the five-time All-Star contributed 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Without him in the lineup this season, the Clippers are 11-7, and in his recent stretch of games missed, they went 6-3, including two consecutive losses entering the game against the Nuggets.

Lue also revealed Saturday that guard Patrick Beverley could be on his way back sooner than later; the team’s emotional leader suffered a broken hand March 8 against Phoenix.

Furthermore, the coach said Serge Ibaka continues to make slow progress in his return from what’s been characterized as lower back tightness, a condition that’s sidelined the veteran center since March 15.

On Beverley, Lue said: “If he keeps progressing the way he is, we should be able to see him in the next couple games hopefully. That’s if he keeps progressing the way he has.”

On Ibaka: “Serge has been on the floor, playing a little three-on-three, four-on-four last couple days. The first couple chances he’s had to get out on the floor, so that’s good to see.”

TAKING THE BLAME

In their 109-101 loss in Phoenix on Wednesday, the Clippers allowed 39 points in what Lue called an “atrocious” first quarter, struggled with defensive communication that, as Paul George put it, “sucked,” and got outrebounded 45-36 (including 15-5 on the offensive glass).

But George was most upset with himself.

“It just comes down to we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot,” said the Clippers’ All-Star wing, who in the previous 10 games entering Saturday averaged 28.5 points, 5.3 assists — and 4.5 turnovers, including five against the Suns.


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