Kawhi Leonard’s Clippers debut is still on hold, the team announced Wednesday evening. After participating in practice, including taking his turn to guard explosive scorer Lou Williams, the team listed him as unavailable for a preseason game against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night so he could rest.
Coach Doc Rivers said after practice he was not sure if Leonard would play against the Nuggets. “But I think he will play in one or two preseason games,” he added. “But I don’t know when.”
Leonard didn’t play in the Clippers’ two exhibition games in Hawaii against the Houston Rockets or Shanghai Sharks.
The Clippers have two more exhibition games after Thursday. They play Melbourne at Staples Center on Sunday afternoon and the Dallas Mavericks on Oct. 17 in Vancouver. The Clippers open the regular season hosting the Lakers on Oct. 22.
When the media was allowed into practice, Leonard seemed to have ratcheted up his workouts. He was defending Williams, one of the NBA’s best offensive weapons.
“They were going at each other,” Rivers said. “It was good. They were talking. So, I loved it.”
Several times Williams came off a screen and scored over Leonard, doing so by going to his left.
Since Leonard, one of the NBA’s best two-way players, and Williams were defending each other, it made the Clippers’ practice that much more intense.
“It does, because obviously I’m not going to put Lou on Kawhi,” Rivers said of the matchup. “But he took that [challenge] and so that changed the practice tone for a little bit. That was great. We need a little more of those.”
After the scrimmage ended, Williams walked over to get some water when he encountered Paul George, the Clippers’ other outstanding two-way player who is recovering from surgeries on both shoulders.
George, who didn’t do any live or contact drills at practice, couldn’t seem stop himself, telling Williams that he can’t wait to defend the NBA’s back-to-back sixth man of the year. George is not expected to play until sometime in November at the earliest.
Williams didn’t back down in talking trash with George.
“Lou just talks — and backs it up,” Rivers said. “Lou has been very aggressive. I mean, he’s ready. And he knows he can score. Lou has the ultimate confidence.”
Rivers said Leonard’s presence has made the Clippers’ practices move lively. After all, Leonard did lead the Toronto Raptors to the NBA championship and he was named MVP of the Finals for a second time.
“They want to play with him,” Rivers said of Leonard’s teammates. “They want to show him they can play. It’s always a get-the-trust-thing when you have a great player on your team. All the other guys want to get his trust so he will throw the ball to them some, or just play with him. So, there’s definitely that component on the floor. There’s no doubt about that.”
Rivers said guard Rodney McGruder will not to play against the Nuggets because of a sprained right ankle he sustained during practice Wednesday. Guard Patrick Beverley is expected to play despite taking a tumble Wednesday.
“Pat went down, but nothing serious,” Rivers said. “And Rodney stepped on someone’s foot. That is serious, not serious as far as long term, but I can’t imagine him playing tomorrow.”