Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard will not play Wednesday against Utah, marking the first instance of the team resting its superstar as part of a precautionary “load management” strategy.
Leonard is still expected to play Thursday in the Clippers’ home game against San Antonio, his former team. Coach Doc Rivers said there was no set plan for how the team would handle Leonard’s availability during all of the Clippers’ 13 games on back-to-back nights this season.
“Case by case,” Rivers said at the team’s shoot-around Wednesday morning at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
In this case, the team is in the middle of a stretch in which it will play three games in four nights after defeating Charlotte on Monday in Los Angeles.
“Our goal is to have [Leonard] playing and being fresh all year, and we’re doing that so far,” Rivers said. “But I keep saying this, he’s not the only guy that we’re having those conversations with, and every team is doing it. We’re just trying to do it, I don’t know, I’m trying to say more efficiently than others, but we’re learning as we go.”
Guard Rodney McGruder, who has yet to make his regular-season debut after spraining an ankle in the preseason, will be available to face the Jazz.
The Clippers officially listed Leonard as out because of “load management, knee,” but Rivers added that Leonard had “never felt better, so we want to keep it that way.” Leonard has averaged 27.0 points, 7.5 assists and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 51.9% from the field in his first four games of the Clippers’ (3-1) regular season.
“Load management” entered the NBA’s lexicon last season through Toronto’s strategy to rest Leonard during at least one leg of the team’s 12 back-to-back games. Leonard played 60 of the Raptors’ 82 regular-season games and led them to the NBA championship in June, earning his second NBA Finals MVP award.
Since signing with the Clippers in free agency, Leonard has said that the aggressive strategy was put in place because he was recuperating from a leg injury when the season began and wanted to ensure he would be fully healthy by the postseason.
Leonard added that his rest strategy with the Clippers would be “different,” however, because he was healthier than he was a year ago. But the Clippers appear not to be taking chances. They also are monitoring closely the workloads of veteran guards Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley as well as forward Paul George, who is expected to make his debut in mid-November after recovering from offseason shoulder surgeries.
“All year, we’re going to rest a lot of guys,” Rivers said.