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Consequences of Clippers continuous injury conundrum

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George edge closer to a return, but Norman Powell is the newest name to enter their vicious injury cycle.

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Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are eyeing up a return, but there’s a new name on the Clippers injury report.
Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The latest Los Angeles Clippers injury report may have been the most anticipated of recent times. With Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Luke Kennard all out of this week’s back-to-back against the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz, both Norman Powell and Reggie Jackson becoming walking wounded was very unwelcome. Then came some good news.

Friday’s practice revealed that Leonard, George and Kennard were all active participants, though only the former two are in line for a return in Saturday’s matinee against the Sacramento Kings. Powell didn’t take part, while Jackson seems to have come through unscathed from a nasty fall in a 41-minute display on Tuesday, with another 25 minutes added the very next night for good measure.

Kawhi and PG getting back to full health is obviously good news, while Reggie’s condition is a huge relief. Simply put, the more time those guys miss, the less reps this team gets at full health ahead of the postseason. Meanwhile, subsequent injuries to other role players like we’ve seen would call their place in the playoffs into question altogether. So being back is a good sign, but we’d be naive to expect that to be their last spell on the sidelines.

Leonard and George are both guys with a lot of NBA experience in their legs, which has proven both a blessing and a curse for the Clippers. Their recovery time hasn’t always been what we’d hoped for, while the organization has rightly chosen to proceed with caution, and the frequency of niggling injuries that disrupt their rhythm is continually increasing as a result.

If they do have a postseason run in their respective tanks, then whatever run time they can get in the regular season is most welcome. Though preseason expectations had this team nailed on to secure home advantage in the first round, they’d probably settle for a fifth or sixth seed if they knew they’d have their stars to call on in the playoffs and they were confident that everything would just click back into gear when they returned.

To achieve that in real terms, they’d need Leonard to get well beyond his minutes restriction during the regular season, because Tyronn Lue has said himself that it can be hard for the role players to know where they stand when the star man is out. George is less of a worry in terms of the reps, and his role as the second option feels slightly more plug and play, but again, it would just be nice to see him and his running mate together.

Ultimately though, this vicious cycle with injuries makes life much harder for the Clippers. Their top guys having a lot of minutes in their legs and the schedule being typically unrelenting means the coaching staff has to deal with a roster that is constantly overstretched. Guys having to step up and take on that extra load, while great for the team spirit, pushes them closer to the red zone, and it can be hard to find a natural point to reset.

The decision to have Moussa Diabate, Jason Preston and Brandon Boston Jr. training with the team rather than heading back to Ontario for further G-League assignment shows they’re at least making a contingency to more quickly hit that reset point – and a blowout win at some point would be nice. In the absence of that and with Powell now a fresh injury concern, those preseason expectations could continue to fall further away from their grasp.