No Kawhi Leonard Sunday, Monday; Clippers still adjusting to new reality

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Clippers
Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Clippers

LOS ANGELES — Kawhi Leonard has played in two NBA games this season.

He will not add to that total Sunday against Zion Williamson and the Pelicans or Monday against the Rockets. Zion, however, will play for the Pelicans.

Leonard has been out since Oct. 23 with what is officially called “right knee injury management” but is mostly some stiffness in the knee after he played an average of 21 minutes across two of the first three games of the NBA season.

“It’s going to be a game-to-game thing right now, we know he’s out tomorrow (Monday, vs. Houston)…” Clippers coach Tyronne Lue said before Sunday’s game. “He’s feeling better. You know, we just continue to rehab, try to get rid of this stiffness he has going on in that knee. But he is feeling better, so that’s a great sign.”

So far this season Paul George and John Wall have each missed one game and Marcus Morris has missed two.

The result is a 2-3 Clippers team to start the season, although talk to them and the tone is the season more a marathon than a sprint – it’s about guys being healthy and able to play starting in April and the playoffs, not October. Lue said players going in and out of the lineup, combined with the team trying to fit Leonard and George back in, has led to a sluggish offense that is 29th in the NBA. The sixth-ranked defense has been unable to cover that up and get wins. Yet.

Lue made one tweak to the starting lineup, saying Terance Mann would start in Leonard’s spot and Norman Powell will come off the bench, which is more his traditional role.

The Clippers had guys in and out of the lineup a lot last season as well, but Lue said there is not a lot they can take away from that.

“I think it’s a little different time than it was last year because last year we knew PG and Kawhi would be out for an extended period of time, and we had to change our offense and how we wanted to play,” Lue said. “We had to change that up with Kawhi being available certain games with PG being able to play it’s a little different when you build your offense around your two main guys.

“Just, you know, getting healthy, I think, it’s gonna take us some time, a couple of months to, you know, get up to speed offensively and what we want to do and the minute restrictions.”

A couple of months. It’s a marathon.

The Clippers are supposed to have the depth to survive stars missing games and still win, still be a top-six playoff team. They haven’t looked like it so far, and that’s what Lue has to change sooner rather than later. Otherwise they will be so far back in the marathon they won’t be able to catch up.

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