Kawhi Leonard won’t play against Bucks, and the NBA is fine with it

Kawhi Leonard warms up before a game against the Spurs on Oct. 31, 2019, at Staples Center.
Kawhi Leonard warms up before a game against the Spurs earlier this season.
( Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)

Clippers star Kawhi Leonard will miss a second nationally televised game for “load management” of a knee, the team announced Tuesday evening.

Leonard will not play Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks at Staples Center in what would have been a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference finals between Leonard, who played Toronto last season, and league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Leonard is expected to play Thursday against Portland.

The Clippers-Bucks game will be broadcast on ESPN, and the NBA prohibits teams from resting otherwise healthy players for high-profile, nationally televised games at the risk of a fine starting at $100,000. The Clippers haven’t been fined and are in compliance with league policy because the listed reason for the absence is related to an “injury/illness,” and not rest. A league spokesman said the team received approval for Leonard’s absence ahead of time after providing information to the league.

The team similarly received league approval for Leonard’s previous load management-related absence this season, Oct. 30 against Utah, which was also an ESPN broadcast. Asked before that matchup against the Jazz what he would tell fans missing a chance to see Leonard, Clippers coach Doc Rivers called it “a tough one.”


“All I can say, if you’re a Clipper fan, that’s easy to explain,” Rivers said. “That’s who we should be concerned with more, to be honest. Having said that, you should care about all of the fans because they pay. Hopefully, we have enough on the floor that we’ll show them a good game. Now, if you’re a Kawhi fan and you’re from Utah, then that’s just a tough one. But there’s really no way around today and anywhere that anyone’s doing it.”

The Clippers have said their goal is to begin the playoffs with as healthy a roster as possible and as such will monitor the workload of players such as Leonard, veteran guards Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley, and forward Paul George upon his debut from injury. The Clippers held Williams and Beverley out of Tuesday’s practice for rest-related reasons, Rivers said.

Leonard has averaged 29.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists in six games this season. The Clippers are 5-1 when he plays.

Patrick Beverley dubbed the Clippers’ defense ‘scary’ just before the team gave up 130 points to the Suns. Since then, the Clippers have been extra stingy.