LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kawhi Leonard isn’t healthy three weeks into the season, according to the NBA, which says that as a result the Los Angeles Clippers can rest their new superstar.
He was on the bench against the visiting Milwaukee Bucks for a national TV game Wednesday night, the first half of a back-to-back for the Clippers. They host Portland on Thursday night, and coach Doc Rivers said Leonard would play.
“Kawhi Leonard is not a healthy player under the league’s resting policy,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement Wednesday. “And, as such, is listed as managing a knee injury in the LA Clippers injury report. The league office, in consultation with the NBA’s director of sports medicine is comfortable with the team medical staff’s determination that Leonard is not sufficiently healthy to play in back-to-back games at this time.”
While not disputing the league’s comments, Rivers also said Leonard “feels great.”
“But he feels great because of what we’ve been doing and we’re just going to continue to do it,” the coach said. “There’s no concern here.”
Last week, Leonard missed a road-home back-to-back against Utah and San Antonio. Rivers said it doesn’t mean that Leonard won’t play in back-to-backs — the team has 11 remaining this season — but “early on we’re going to keep to the same plan that we’ve kept to so far.”
Rivers cited “a lot of minutes” that Leonard racked up last season while leading Toronto to its first NBA championship.
“I think Kawhi made a statement that he’s never felt better,” Rivers said. “It’s our job to make sure he stays that way.”
Leonard is averaging career highs in points (29.3), rebounds (7.3), assists (5.7), steals (2.3) and blocks (1.0) in six games so far this season, while averaging 30.5 minutes.
Paul George, the Clippers’ other big acquisition during the summer, is still rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery. He is expected to participate in contact at practice soon.
“You could see he’s very eager. He tried to sneak in one possession unsuccessfully,” Rivers said. “He wants to play.”
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said Milwaukee manages reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in a similar way to Leonard.
“We’re very conscientious of how we can keep him healthy and how we can keep him playing well, being proactive, being aggressive,” he said. “It’s not just the Clippers. A lot of teams are considering and doing things to make sure their whole roster is healthy.”