Kawhi Leonard is back on the court, and his presence immediately jumps the Los Angeles Clippers to contenders in a busy Western Conference.
Leonard returned to the field on Monday night, playing 16 minutes against the Portland Trail Blazersscoring 11 points and adding four rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“It was awesome,” Leonard said of playing again, according to ESPN. “Just being able to put in all of this hard work that I did throughout the 14, 16 months, just being able to put it through its paces and play against some NBA talent, that was good.
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“Just being there with the guys and talking, I missed that. It was a great experience for me.”
Leonard missed the entire 2021-22 NBA season after tearing his ACL in the 2021 NBA Playoffs against the Utah Jazz.
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His absence led the Clippers to have an up and down season, going 42-40 in the regular season and losing both games in the NBA play-in tournament.
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“The body feels good,” Leonard said. “Obviously I’m not going to play 35 minutes, 38 minutes to start with, so it’s going to be a bit shaky early on, probably. But, like I said, it’s a journey, it’s a process, and it’s is what I’m about.”
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The Clippers also had to deal with an injury to Paul George last season, who suffered a tear at UCL and played just 31 games.
With George and Leonard healthy, the Clippers enter the season as one of the favorites to win the NBA championship, which would be the franchise’s first.
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“I’m really excited,” George said, according to Clutch Points. “I’m more excited, obviously, that he’s healthy. That’s first and foremost. I’ve seen all of his work throughout [recovery] – the second he was injured on the job he did this offseason, before this season.
“Really excited for him to get the chance to do what he loves to do and get back on the pitch. Obviously after that, it’s the excitement of being able to play with the best two-way player in the game.”