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Clippers

Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard steps up to a new level: ‘No one could guard him’

Forward Kawhi Leonard watches the Clippers’ preseason opener against the Rockets on Thursday in Honolulu.
Forward Kawhi Leonard watches the Clippers’ preseason opener against the Rockets on Thursday in Honolulu.
(Marco Garcia / Associated Press)

Whether or not Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard plays in the preseason, coach Doc Rivers is not concerned about the team’s new superstar showing any rust.

Leonard ramped up his workload Saturday by playing in all “live” portions of the team’s first workout since Thursday’s preseason-opening loss to Houston, and looked impressive doing it, Rivers said.

“It’s clearly why he’s Kawhi,” Rivers said. “No one could guard him.”

Rivers and Clippers teammates also said it was difficult to be guarded by him. One of Leonard’s two blocked shots was a swat of a three-pointer and Rivers “didn’t know where [Leonard] came from to get it.” During a portion of practice open to media, Leonard played on a team alongside rookie guard Terance Mann, guard Patrick Beverley, forward JaMychal Green and center Ivica Zubac.

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“It was a pretty nice block,” Mann said. “Couple nice blocks, couple nice pull-ups. He’s getting in the groove of things.

“It’s been awesome having him out there. He’s vocal, believe it or not; he’s telling us what to do.”

Leonard will not play Sunday against the Shanghai Sharks at the Stan Sheriff Center, the team’s final preseason game in Hawaii before returning to Los Angeles. The Clippers then close their preseason schedule with games on Thursday, Oct. 13 and Oct. 17.

Rookie guard Terance Mann has a strong connection to the Clippers because of a longstanding relationship with scouts Leo Papile and Paul Hewitt.

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Leonard, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, has stated his focus is being as healthy as possible by the start of the postseason. So it was of little surprise when Rivers said he doesn’t necessarily believe Leonard needs game experience before the Oct. 22 season opener.

“You can make the case no, because you’re getting your reps in practice, you are playing live,” he said. “He played the whole practice today that was live. But will he not play one [preseason game]? I don’t know that. He probably will play one, but I would say I’m not that concerned, either way.”

What does concern Rivers is how best to structure practices to continue the progression of injured forward Paul George while also preparing the rest of the team.

Rivers wants to put the team through more live scrimmages and drills to better simulate game scenarios, but George remains limited to non-contact drills as he recovers from surgeries on both shoulders. As two five-on-five games were played at either end of a practice court Saturday, George was on an adjacent court with a trio of assistants, taking part in a one-on-one, three-point shooting and ball-handling drill.

“We’re still trying to figure out how to do something where he can get his timing and rhythm,” Rivers said. “But we can’t not play live because everybody else needs it. I probably did it the wrong way [earlier this week]. I probably erred on the wrong side of that.”

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As evidence, he held up his team’s disjointed performance in the loss to Houston. Rivers partly attributed the “awful” transition defense, the forced shots and few passes to the relatively few live reps during the first days of camp.

“Everybody came in with the typical first preseason game [attitude], ‘I’m going to show the coaches and the world that I have arrived,’” Rivers said.

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Twelve of the 20 players on the training camp roster are new since the summer, and despite scrimmaging together since early September, the Clippers still are learning how to communicate and play with one another.

“I don’t think we looked that bad; I think in the second half we played better,” said forward Maurice Harkless, one of those offseason additions. “That was Houston’s second game and our first time out there in an actual game setting. We had to adjust. You know in training camp, no one’s calling fouls, so we had a lot of guys in foul trouble and things like that.”

Along with Leonard and George, Lou Williams could be rested Sunday, Rivers said.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer says a lawsuit against the team’s plan to build an arena complex in Inglewood will not stop the proposed project.


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