The big mystery Monday night surrounding the Clippers was the playing status of Kawhi Leonard and when he might return to action.
Leonard joined the Clippers on their two-game trip that started with a 122-106 victory over the Houston Rockets on Monday and will finish Tuesday night with a visit to Dallas to face the Mavericks.
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue was asked after six of his players scored in double figures and his reserves extended a lead in the fourth quarter, allowing his starters to rest for all of the final 12minutes, whether Leonard would play against the Mavericks.
The star forward, who underwent reconstructive surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last year, is experiencing stiffness in the knee. He has not played since Oct.23.
The answer wasn’t a yes or a no when Lue was asked about Leonard being available at Dallas. In fact, the coach didn’t reveal much.
“No, I don’t know,” Lue said.
“You don’t know?” Lue was asked again.
“No, I don’t know,” Lue said. “… Yeah, yeah, I don’t know. I’m always going to tell you the truth.”
Lue was forthcoming about the Clippers’ John Wall, saying, “yessir,” when asked whether the point guard would play at Dallas after he sat out against Houston because of left knee management.
The Clippers didn’t need Wall on Monday, as they built a 16-point lead in the third quarter and extended it to 24 in the fourth.
“We had to finish the game the right way [and gave] our starters some rest,” Lue said. “Like I said, having it back to back tomorrow against Dallas, it’s always a tough opponent. I thought our second unit did a great job of just playing the right way, getting some stops, running the offense, getting in some sets, and so when they was able to finish a game like that, I really feel good about the way they played.”
The Clippers’ Paul George started slowly, missing all five of his shots in the first quarter. But he picked it up in the second quarter by scoring eight points and added 11 more in the third.
George finished with 22points on seven-for-18 shooting, eight rebounds and five assists. He did his work in just 29 minutes 5 seconds, giving him extra rest for the back-to-back game.
Reggie Jackson (17 points) played just 22:48, Marcus Morris (15 points) 24:57, Ivica Zubac (nine points, seven rebounds) 26:27 and Luke Kennard (8 points) 27:34.
The starters got to rest because reserves like Norman Powell (17 points), Terance Mann (14 points, four rebounds and four assists) and Nicolas Batum (10 points, six rebounds) took care of business in the fourth quarter.
“It’s great when everybody is contributing,” George said. “I think it’s more so a credit to our team when we are moving the ball, sharing the ball, because we’re not like an iso team. So, it’s very good if we got that many guys in double figures.
Leonard has played in just two of the Clippers’ first 14 games, missing the game against the Rockets because of right knee injury management.
Whenever Leonard does return, George said they’ll have to make an adjustment — but in a good way.
“Oh, I mean, he’s one of the best players in the league, so obviously it’s going to be an adjustment for the good,” George said. “He’s one of the best players. It’s an adjustment that you want, and with him, he fits into our identity. Obviously, he plays the right way. He creates so much offense. He creates so much playmaking. And then defensively, he’s an anchor. So, we love to have him back. We can’t wait to get him back.”
Leonard didn’t take the Clippers previous two-game trip but being on this one allowed the forward to be a source of information from the bench.
“It’s another voice for us and it’s the most vocal I’ve seen him since I’ve been here, since my time being here the last four years,” Lue said. “And he’s been really vocal and staying on the guys, being encouraging. But also telling what he sees as well. So, it’s been really good.”