LA Clippers Star Kawhi Leonard Will Not Play vs. Portland Trail Blazers
LA Clippers star forward Kawhi Leonard will not play in Saturday's contest with the Portland Trail Blazers.
The decision was made early this morning, per the LA Times' Andrew Greif. That said, this doesn't come as a big surprise — when the Clippers have played back-to-backs this season, Leonard typically rests for the first game and plays the second to maximize rest.
LA will face-off with the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, which Leonard will presumably suit up for.
The Clippers were already going to be shorthanded for their meeting with the Trail Blazers, as Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell were made unavailable for the game on Friday. Leonard's absence will only make things more difficult for LA against a motivated Portland team.
The Blazers have gone 3-1 in the bubble thus far, with wins over the Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies. The lone loss was a four-point defeat to the Boston Celtics.
Without Leonard and Beverley, the Clippers will have their hands full defensively. Portland is scoring 124.8 points per game in the bubble, and star guard Damian Lillard has been a huge part of that. The 30-year-old is averaging 31.3 points and 11.3 assists and knocking down 43.8% of his 12.0 (!!!) attempts from three-point range per game.
The Blazers have also gotten some excellent play out of Jusuf Nurkic as well, who made his season debut on July 31. He's posting 22.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest so far.
Of course, all isn't lost for LA. Paul George has looked phenomenal in the bubble, and Portland has struggled to contain wings all year long. Look for him to have a monster game — especially since there's some bad blood between himself and the Blazers.
If the Clippers end up losing this one, though, there's still hope that they'll be able to hang on to the Western Conference's No. 2 seed. As it stands, LA has a 1.5-game lead over Denver, and their next few opponents include the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers and Toronto Raptors.
If anything, a win here for the Blazers could make things more difficult for the Lakers. Portland is still the No. 9 seed, but they've closed the gap on the Memphis Grizzlies for No. 8. Lillard and Co. would be a much more difficult first-round opponent for Los Angeles, which could help the Clippers in the long run if the two are to meet in the Conference Finals.
The LA Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers will meet at 1:00 p.m. ET. The game will air on TNT.