It had been nearly 16 months since LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard played in an NBA game before Tuesday night’s preseason win over the Portland Trail Blazers. Leonard finished with 11 points in 16 minutes but, more importantly, he appeared to be fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered in Game 4 of the 2021 Western Conference Semifinals against the Utah Jazz.
Last season, the Clippers dragged through the first two months of the season with Paul George leading until he was injured in late December. Paul missed more than three months before returning at the end of March, but the damage was done. The Clippers fell from the top five when George was healthy in the play in tournament, where they were eliminated, missing the playoffs just a year away from the franchise’s first WCF appearance.
That’s all behind them now, as Leonard and George are back and healthy, making the Clippers a favorite in the West this year. Stacked against the rest of the West, this LA team has the tools and the depth to make a run for the Western Conference crown from the Warriors.
Of course, it all hinges on Leonard’s ability to stay on the floor and be available in the playoffs. Based on that notion, the Clippers have more than enough depth to compete with the best teams in the NBA. Over the past two years, head coach Tyronn Lue has proven he’s more than a product of LeBron James. Lue can coach and has been called by many of the best coaches in the league to adapt.
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LA should be able to go deep into their lineup, with 10 players receiving significant minutes on a given night. Having that depth should also help preserve Leonard and George through the long 82-game season.
In the backcourt alone, minutes will be tight with a six-guard rotation. Besides George, the Clippers have Reggie Jackson, Norman Powell, Terance Mann, Luke Kennard, and the newest addition John Wall as players who will fight for minutes on the floor. Leonard, Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris Sr., Nicolas Batum and Robert Covington make up the Clippers frontcourt and should all see big minutes, depending on the game. And many of these players can play in multiple positions.
The road to victory in the NBA is tough, but those teams with depth are usually some of the last remaining at the end. Sure, this league is about the stars, but those stars also need to be surrounded by pieces that match their game and what they do best on the court. The Clippers still don’t have a true starting point guard as Jackson is more of a combo guard, but as we’ve seen in the past he can definitely get the job done in big moments when called upon. .
But then again, none of that matters without Leonard on the court when it counts. The depth is fantastic – we just saw the Warriors and Celtics meet in the Finals possessing two of the deepest rosters in the conference. Hopefully there won’t be too much load management needed at Clipperland this year, and Leonard can play at least 65 games. It’s a feat he hasn’t accomplished since he was in San Antonio.
Again, the main goal is to keep Leonard and PG-13 healthy enough to make a playoff run. That’s what the Clippers should focus on heading into the 2022-23 campaign. You can play a lot of bad teams in an NBA season. These Clippers are good enough to beat most teams in this league. Against the top four or five teams in the NBA, that’s where stars and depth will be most important. If the Clippers can spend the season mostly in good healththere’s no reason why they shouldn’t be back in WCF.