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Clippers guard Norman Powell’s return is likely this season

Clippers guard Norman Powell calls a play while bringing the ball up court.
Norman Powell averaged 21 points and four assists in three games with the Clippers after he was acquired in a trade before the NBA deadline.
(LM Otero / Associated Press)
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Robert Covington has been a member of the Clippers for only two months but knows enough to believe that at full strength the team is “going to be scary,” the forward said Tuesday.

The Clippers are almost there.

A week after All-Star wing Paul George returned from an elbow injury, guard Norman Powell practiced without limitations Tuesday, coach Tyronn Lue confirmed, Powell’s first such workout since he fractured a bone in his toe in mid-February. Later, his status was upgraded to doubtful to play Wednesday night against Phoenix. It’s a sign that Lue’s stated hope for Powell to ease into the rotation before the play-in tournament is indeed a possibility.

The Clippers weren’t planning to play a five-on-five scrimmage Tuesday, but Powell “will be able to do everything we’re doing today” in practice, Lue said.

Powell’s progress wasn’t even the most intriguing moment Tuesday. That was the sight of Kawhi Leonard shooting free throws, midrange shots and working his way around the three-point arc firing attempts before practice started during a portion of time when reporters were allowed to watch.

Nearly nine months after he underwent surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in the right knee that he injured during Game 4 of a second-round playoff series against Utah, Leonard didn’t move at full game speed during his more than 30-minute workout. Yet the rotation on his jump shot was as tightly wound as ever, leading some to wonder about the postseason possibilities still ahead for the Clippers.

In the three games Paul George has played since returning from an elbow injury, coach Tyronn Lue has noticed an uptick in the Clippers’ defensive mentality.

April 4, 2022

No update on Leonard’s availability has been issued by the team. In March, Lue said that although he would prefer any injured players get back on the court in the regular season to ramp up for the playoffs’ intensity, he wouldn’t rule out a player making his debut in the playoffs so long as the team’s doctors clear it.

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“Over here, once we get all healthy, it’s definitely going to be scary to see how everything goes because it’s so much,” Covington said. “At any given moment, you never know what can happen, with this team, with the amount of guys that we have that are so versatile.

“It’s definitely going to be a lot of scariness that’s going to happen because we got so many people that can play so many different positions and at any given moment guard so many different guys. To have that versatility, it’s rare. And that much versatility and that much depth, it’s very rare.”

Lue demurred when asked about Leonard’s status, saying he “didn’t see him,” and added that he tries not to prematurely envision what a fully healthy roster could look like before everyone is cleared.

“Of course we would love to have those guys back, for sure,” Lue said. “I think [if] you get caught up thinking about that, you miss some different opportunities. For me, just think about the guys that are playing and are here now, and if we get those guys back, then it is definitely a plus — but right now [we’ve] just got to focus on who is playing right now.”

The team’s goal this week, guard Terance Mann said, is “basically figuring out what we got if we’re getting Norm back or not, and if we are, just figuring out how to make it work with these next couple games before we head into this play-in game.”

The Clippers (39-40), locked into the play-in tournament as the eighth seed, finish the regular season with games at home Wednesday against Phoenix, Saturday against Sacramento and Sunday against Oklahoma City.

Attempting to reintegrate core players into the rotation at such a late stage is a difficult balancing act, as roles change for the teammates around the returners. Lue said the last few games would be spent “fine-tuning” which lineup combinations work best. Of course, those lineups could be altered should the Clippers advance out of the play-in tournament and reach a seven-game, first-round series, which could afford Leonard more time to return.

Mann said the team trusts Lue, renowned for his in-game and series adjustments, to handle any changes should the Clippers indeed inch closer to full strength.

“I mean, he’s done it before and we trust him with any unit we got out there,” Mann said. “He’s going to do a great job with it, I’m sure.”

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UP NEXT

VS. PHOENIX

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

On the air: TV: Bally Sports SoCal, ESPN; Radio: 570, 1330

Update: The Suns (62-16) will be playing on consecutive nights after facing the Lakers on Tuesday in a game that gave Phoenix the opportunity to set a franchise record for victories. … The NBA has set 6:30 p.m. tipoff times for the Clippers’ final two games of the regular season Saturday and Sunday. … With Denver, Utah and Minnesota all possible opponents in the play-in tournament as the seventh seed, Mann said he didn’t have a preference on which team the Clippers would face but said preparation would begin later this week.

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