Will Kawhi Leonard return for the playoffs? How the Clippers star impacts the image of the NBA Western Conference playoffs

Despite missing Kawhi Leonard for the entire season and Paul George for most of the season, the LA Clippers qualified for the Play-In Tournament with a chance to make the 2022 NBA Playoffs.

The Clippers are starting to bounce back at the right time. George, along with Norman Powell, return from injuries just before the end of the regular season. Both players are expected to be available for Play-In 7 vs. Tuesday 8 against the Minnesota Timberwolves at 9 pm ET on TNT.

If the Clippers can pull off a win over the Timberwolves, they will claim the No. 7 seed in the West and face the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs. If the Clippers lose, they will face the winner of the Nine-Ten Game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the San Antonio Spurs. A win in that game would give them the No. 8 seed in a rematch series of last year’s Western Conference Finals with the Phoenix Suns. Back-to-back Play-In losses would eliminate the Clippers from the postseason.

MORE: NBA Play-In Tournament Explained: Format, Matchups, Seedings & More

While the return of George and Powell is huge for a potential push to the playoffs, the longer the Clippers last, the better chance they have of putting two-time Finals MVP Leonard back in action.

Leonard is not expected to be available for the Play-In Tournament. and there’s a chance he may never make the playoffs again.

But what if it does?

Here’s everything you need to know about Leonard’s injury and how his availability would affect the Western Conference playoffs.

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What is Kawhi Leonard’s injury?

Leonard suffered an injury to his right knee during Game 4 of the 2021 Western Conference Semifinals last June. The two-time NBA Finals MVP limped off after a drive to the basket against former Jazz forward Joe Ingles. He ended up sitting out the last four-plus minutes of that contest, but in his postgame interview with TNT’s Rebecca Haarlow, he said, “I’ll be good.”

Unfortunately for Leonard, the knee problem was more serious than he thought and ended what had been a spectacular playoff run. The Clippers announced on July 13 that Leonard had successful surgery to repair the partially torn ACL, adding that there is “There is no timetable for his return.”

Latest news on Kawhi Leonard’s injury

At the end of March, ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk reported that if the Clippers could get out of the Play-In Tournament, Leonard’s return would be a possibility.

“By all accounts, Leonard has been working hard and appears to be in good shape, but the Clippers will be more cautious with their franchise star,” Youngmisuk wrote.

“However, if they make it out of the Play-In Tournament and Paul George and Norman Powell also come back, Leonard would only need clearance from medical staff to play again. And that door has been left open.”

Just last week, Leonard was seen moving and putting up jumpers in practice, sending the NBA world into a frenzy.

While this is far from being a full participant in practice to putting in 5-on-5 work, it shows that Leonard is taking whatever steps he can to be healthy enough to play this season.

The last time Kawhi Leonard played…

He was as dominant as we have ever seen him.

It’s easy to forget that Leonard was All-NBA First Team last season after averaging 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game with shooting splits of .512/.398/.885.

And it was even better in the playoffs.

With the Clippers trailing the Dallas Mavericks 3-2 in the first round, Leonard scored a career-high 45 points on 18-of-25 shooting from the field to force a Game 7.

In Game 7, Leonard nearly recorded a triple-double, with 28 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals to lead LA to a decisive win to advance to the next round.

After the Clippers lost Games 1 and 2 to the Utah Jazz in the Conference Semifinals, Leonard began to flip the switch. He had 32 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in a big Game 3 win, then followed that up with 31 points in a Game 4 win to even the series.

He suffered his knee injury late in Game 4, which would eventually be ruled as a partially torn ACL, marking the last time Leonard stepped onto the court.

If the Clippers could come back that version of Leonard this postseason, would immediately become one of the most talented teams in the West. With George and Powell already back in the lineup, Los Angeles will be incredibly tough if they can advance out of the Play-In Tournament.

Add Leonard to that combination, a two-time NBA champion and two-time Finals MVP, and you have another player with championship pedigree to try and make an upset run. However, they would have to rebuild their on-court chemistry on the fly.

Head coach Tyronn Lue has done a remarkable job keeping the Clippers afloat all season without the team’s superstars. If Leonard can join George and Powell on the court, LA could become a team of dark horses to make a deep playoff run.

Who plays instead of Kawhi Leonard?

If Leonard can’t get back on the court, the Clippers will carry on as usual.

There was never a definitive expectation that Leonard would return this season; it was always seen as an added bonus if the five-time All-Star was available at some point.

With George and Powell back, the Clippers get a significant boost on both sides of the ball.

Players like Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard and Terance Mann (to name a few) have stepped up to replace the scoring production of George and Leonard, but none of the above are typical choices for a playoff team.

George and Powell will immediately assume their roles as the Clippers’ two leading scorers, as they did at the end of the regular season.

George averaged 22.6 points, 6.8 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 2.8 steals while shooting 52.5 percent from 3 in five games since returning from an elbow injury. Powell only had two tune-up games before the postseason, but he scored 20-plus points in each contest.

Even in potential matchups against the Grizzlies or Suns, the Clippers have the offensive firepower and defensive pieces to make life difficult for the best teams in the league.

Will they manage to give the surprise without Leonard? It doesn’t seem likely, but even the partially healthy version of the Clippers is much tougher than other typical Play-In-level teams.


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