Clippers' Leonard looking forward to 'reunion' with Raptors

Kawhi Leonard is looking forward to a reunion with the team he led to the NBA title last season.

But once the game starts, Leonard will be looking to lead the Los Angeles Clippers over the visiting Toronto Raptors on Monday night.

It is Leonard's first appearance against Toronto since he was a national hero throughout Canada five months ago, after leading the Raptors past the Golden State Warriors to win their lone NBA title.

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Leonard, who was NBA Finals MVP, left as a free agent in July to sign with the Clippers, but he has nothing but fond memories of his time in Toronto.

"It's going to be fun to see the guys," Leonard told reporters of facing the Raptors. "And just congratulate them and be able to shake hands and compete."

Leonard got his wish to play in his native Southern California, but that hasn't thinned his remembrances of his one special season in Toronto.

"The guys, the journey, also the country," Leonard said. "The city was amazing. And it's just so much, you can keep going on and talking about it."

The feel-good situation is rare in the eyes of Clippers coach Doc Rivers.

"It's not like he left on bad terms, really," Rivers told reporters of Leonard. "It's one of those leave-good situations, not one of those leave-awful situations, and let's be honest, in our league it's usually the other way.

"He's had the rare benefit of being able to leave in a happy state."

The Raptors have continued to thrive without Leonard by winning seven of their first nine games. The latest victory was Sunday's 113-104 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Toronto outclassed the Lakers despite being without point guard Kyle Lowry (fractured left thumb) and forward Serge Ibaka (sprained right ankle). Both players were injured in Friday's victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, with Lowry scheduled to be re-evaluated in two weeks and Ibaka currently ruled out indefinitely.

"Serge is playing better than he's ever played in his life, and Kyle was right there, too," Raptors coach Nick Nurse told reporters. "They're huge losses. We just got to -- like everybody that goes through (injuries), you throw some new guys in there and, I don't know, I'm excited to see some of these guys."

Fred VanVleet moved into Lowry's starting spot and had 23 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, while emerging star forward Pascal Siakam contributed 24 points and 11 rebounds.

Nurse said after Sunday's victory that he is looking forward to seeing Leonard. But he also made it clear the friendliness ends once the ball is tipped.

"I'm going to stay up late tonight trying to devise some kind of scheme to try to make life very difficult on him tomorrow," Nurse said.

Leonard's habit of sitting out on part of a back-to-back blew up into a controversy when he was rested for last Wednesday's nationally televised showdown with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. Rivers publicly said Leonard was healthy, and the league took issue with that proclamation and revealed the Clippers reported that Leonard has a left knee injury. The league also fined the club $50,000.

"I mean it was shocking, but it doesn't matter to me," Leonard told reporters about the situation. "I'm not a guy that reads the media anyway. We're going to manage it the best way we can to keep me healthy, and that's the most important thing, me being healthy moving forward."

Los Angeles is closer to getting All-Star forward Paul George on the court for the first time since acquiring him from the Oklahoma City Thunder. George, who underwent offseason surgery on both shoulders, was ruled out on Sunday, and it now appears his debut may come Wednesday against the Houston Rockets.

--Field Level Media

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