The NBA approved the Clippers’ plan to sit star Kawhi Leonard for a pair of nationally televised games because it believes the forward is not yet healthy enough to play on consecutive nights, a league spokesman said Wednesday.
Leonard did not play Oct. 30 against Utah, in a game broadcast on ESPN, and will also miss the ESPN matchup against Milwaukee on Wednesday at Staples Center. In both situations, the Clippers were scheduled to play the following night. Leonard returned to play Oct. 31, in a victory against San Antonio, just as he is expected to play Thursday against Portland.
Without Leonard, the Clippers lost to the host Jazz 110-96.
The NBA prohibits teams from resting otherwise healthy players for high-profile, nationally televised games, at risk of a fine starting at $100,000. The Clippers haven’t be fined and are compliant with that policy because they listed the reason for Leonard’s absence not as “rest,” but “load management” of a knee, which falls under the category of injury or illness.
“Kawhi Leonard is not a healthy player under the league’s resting policy, and, as such, is listed as managing a knee injury in the L.A. Clippers injury report,” league spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement sent to the Los Angeles Times. “The league office, in consultation with the NBA’s director of sports medicine is comfortable with the team medical staff’s determination that Leonard is not sufficiently healthy to play in back-to-back games at this time.”
The Clippers play on consecutive nights 13 times this season. If Leonard were to miss at least one game from each back-to-back, he would play a maximum of 69 games.
While playing for the Toronto Raptors last season, Leonard played 60 regular-season games under a similar strategy that kept him from playing both ends of a back-to-back. The plan to limit his workload paid off when Leonard led the Raptors to their first NBA championship in June.
Leonard said in September that Toronto’s “load management” plan was created because “I was going in with an injury that I was dealing with the year before. It still was lingering and we knew I had to be healthy going throughout the season and making it to the playoffs.
“This year I’m feeling good and feeling way better than I was at the start of last season.”
Extending Leonard’s longevity this season will go beyond the Clippers sitting him during back-to-backs. In games Leonard does play, he will be limited to between 30 and 35 minutes, coach Doc Rivers said last month.
Through six games he has averaged 29.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 2.3 steals in 30.5 minutes.