For the Clippers, Friday produced the rarest of scenes: The team held a practice with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George taking part.
George, who has not played since injuring a hamstring tendon Nov. 19, and Leonard, out since spraining an ankle Nov. 21, were expected to be full participants in the workout — one of the only practices the team has held since October — coach Tyronn Lue said, a development that puts the pair of All-Stars on the verge of returning for Saturday’s key test against Sacramento should they respond well to after the workout.
There was more encouraging news for the perpetually short-handed team when guard Luke Kennard also practiced. Kennard hasn’t played since Nov. 17 because of a calf strain and will miss a ninth consecutive game Saturday against the Kings, but practicing puts him closer to a return.
Guard Norman Powell did not practice and will not play against the Kings because of a groin strain suffered Tuesday in Portland.
“I think we’ve only had our whole team, I think what, for two games?” Lue said, though he cautioned the eventual return of Leonard and George will still require “a little time” for the team to get back in the rhythm that has escaped them through a 13-10 start. Leonard will still play a limited number of minutes and isn’t expected to play on consecutive nights, he said.
“And so it’s going to take a little time, I think, just figuring out the rotations and who plays well with who and trying to figure out how to split Kawhi’s minutes and what’s best for the team and what’s best for him as well,” Lue said. “So it’s going to take a little time, and we understand that. But just got to continue to keep building great habits. I think defensively, we got to lock back in defensively of being better. Thought we had some slippage in that department.
“Then offensively, just continue to keep getting better. I know we’ve been short-handed, but we still can play the right way and develop good habits.”
Rookie forward Moussa Diabate and second-year guard Jason Preston practiced Friday instead of returning to the G League, where they have spent the majority of the season. Diabate’s play during the recent two-game road trip to Portland and Utah has earned him consideration for more playing time in the NBA as the Clippers continue to decide how to fill their backup big-man roles.