Kawhi Leonard’s knee injury sidelines him for OKC Thunder games.
OKLAHOMA CITY —
After Kawhi Leonard felt stiffness in his surgically repaired right knee at the Clippers’ shootaround Tuesday morning, the All-Star wing will miss both games against the Oklahoma City Thunder this week, opting to return Wednesday to Los Angeles to continue his recovery.
Leonard played 21 minutes in each of his two appearances this season, his first games since surgery in July 2021 to fix a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament. During the preseason Leonard said he hadn’t suffered any setbacks and felt good.
Leonard watched Tuesday’s game in Oklahoma City on the sideline.
“We want to be cautious, make sure we’re doing the right thing by him; even though he wanted to play, we just thought it wasn’t smart,” coach Tyronn Lue said before tipoff at Paycom Center. “He can be mad at us if he wants to but just not smart right now.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re doing the right thing, sending him back to L.A. because he has better resources for his rehab there.”
Asked whether he was concerned, Lue said it was “part of the process, and that’s going to happen,” reiterating the team’s priority of being cautious with Leonard’s return. The team has taken steps to ease that transition as much as possible, including playing Leonard as a reserve so as to not keep him sitting for long stretches between his minutes.
Stiffness typically indicates swelling in the knee, said T.O. Souryal, who served as the Dallas Mavericks’ team doctor for 22 years and is a former two-term president of the NBA’s association of team physicians.
Still, Souryal said, “it is a tad unexpected to experience stiffness at 16 months” after an ACL operation.
The Clippers played Tuesday missing more than Leonard. Forward Paul George didn’t make the trip because of a non-COVID illness and the team was unsure whether he would be available for Thursday’s rematch. The other starting forward, Marcus Morris Sr., will not play either game for personal reasons. The absences, together with the similarly cautious approach to reserve point guard John Wall’s minutes, have made for a lineup jumble to start the season.
“As anxious as I am, as well as the organization, the fans, and our coaching staff, we got to make sure we are doing it the right way,” Lue said. “That is the most important thing. It is going to be a long process.
“I haven’t really been in this position before. It is a tough position. The game is about flows and about getting the right rhythm and then you get a good rhythm and then guys got to come out, or Kawhi is coming back in. It’s tough. But it is something we gotta deal with.”