Sports

Clippers disappointed to be without Kawhi Leonard, determined to stay the course

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s not a happy time in Clipperdom.

Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers’ leading man, is out indefinitely with a knee injury that the team is characterizing as a sprain, for now. There have been reports that the Clippers are fearful their star might be dealing with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

“No potential return,” Coach Tyronn Lue said Wednesday before Game 5 of their second-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena. “We’re not sure about that. We just know that we’re optimistic, trying to wait for everything to clear up, get the testing back in the next day or so and kind of go from there.”

On a drive to the basket in the fourth quarter of Monday’s game, the five-time All-Star from Moreno Valley planted awkwardly and got a nudge from Joe Ingles. He grimaced and grabbed the knee following the play but remained in the game, shooting four free throws before leaving the floor with 4:35 to play and the Clippers leading 107-91 – on their way to evening the best-of-seven series.

Although Leonard watched the remainder of the game from the bench, he wasn’t attended to on the sideline by any Clippers medical staffers, said he was “good” postgame and wasn’t included on the Clippers’ injury report Tuesday.

Naturally, Lue said, the development has everyone associated with the team feeling dejected, including Leonard, who the coach said traveled with the team to Utah but then returned to L.A.

“He’s a little down because he wanted to be here,” Lue said. “It’s part of the game, he understands that but he wants to be here for his teammates.”

And those teammates – set to take on the top-seeded Jazz in Game 5 on Wednesday – are all disappointed to lose Leonard, Lue said.

“It’s going to affect you,” Lue said. “It’s your brother and you don’t want to see your brother go down, whether it’s your best player or 16th, 17th player. You never want to see anyone go gown and we understand that. So, yeah, of course guys are going to feel a certain way.”

Alas, the show must go on – and on just about the biggest stage a basketball team could find, the NBA playoffs.

The Clippers returned to Utah with the wind at their backs after wins in Games 3 and 4 at Staples Center. But that momentum was sapped by the realization that Leonard – who is averaging 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.1 steals this postseason – could very likely be lost for the series.

The Clippers went 36-16 in games Leonard played in during the regular season; without him, they weren’t much better than .500 – 11-9.

But Lue said he asked his players to tap into the resilience they’ve shown often this season when he addressed them Wednesday morning before the Clippers’ film session.

“Guys just stepping up and doing what they have been doing all season long,” Lue said. “Nothing has changed, we’ve played without Kawhi. We’ve played without PG (Paul George). We’ve played without a lot of guys, and guys have stepped up and we just found ways to win.

“Nothing’s any different tonight.”

Lue said he wouldn’t pressure the Clippers’ other All-Star to do more in order to fill Leonard’s sizable void.

George earned third-team All-NBA recognition Tuesday, making the Clippers the only team with two selections among the 15 honorees this season, but Lue said he wants the Palmdale native to keep doing what he’s been doing the past two games.

He wants him to attack when Derrick Favors is in at center, look for to hit from 3-point range when it’s Rudy Gobert guarding the paint – a philosophy that has George averaging 31 points in his past two games, victories in which he’s shot 50% from 3-point range (10 for 20).

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