1619931632 Kawhi Leonard returns but Clippers lose to Nuggets

Kawhi Leonard returns, but Clippers lose to Nuggets

Once Anthony Davis’ tendinosis in his Achilles’ tendon was healthy enough to play on last week, and LeBron James returned from his severely sprained ankle Friday, the most-watched right leg in the NBA belonged to Kawhi Leonard.

The Clippers’ All-Star forward had been sidelined since April 8 with what had been referred to opaquely as soreness in his right foot, an absence that, combined with the long-term injuries to center Serge Ibaka and guard Patrick Beverley, left the Clippers uncomfortably close to the start of the playoffs without several of their key players.

When coach Tyronn Lue was asked last week how many games he’d like to have with a healthy team before the postseason begins May 22, he chuckled and said that night would have been a nice start.

The Clippers are still not whole entering the regular season’s final two weeks. But even on a night when Denver’s Nikola Jokic burnished his MVP credentials by toying with the Clippers’ defense during a devastating third quarter, there were signs of optimism that such a day could be coming by season’s end.

Leonard’s right foot looked fine as he planted off both feet and rose up for an alley-oop layup on the game’s first possession at Staples Center. It looked plenty healthy in the third quarter when he drove to his right from the right wing, then juked to the left, behind the three-point arc for a swish of a three-pointer, by putting all his weight onto his right foot before his separation move.

But as Saturday served as a reminder, there will be growing pains and adjustments when the group returns to full health.

After jumping out to an early 11-point lead, it was Jokic and the Nuggets who took control of the game and kept the Clippers at bay on the way to a 110-104 victory. Jokic finished with 30 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists.

Leonard played 30 minutes and had 16 points, five rebounds and six assists. Paul George led the Clippers with 20 points while Rajon Rondo had a major impact with 18 points, five assists, five rebounds and three steals.

Denver, which got 25 points, seven rebounds and five assists from Michael Porter Jr., moved into third place in the Western Conference standings, half a game ahead of the Clippers, who are six games ahead of Dallas and the Lakers.

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