Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard Credit: Bill Moore photo

Out of sight, out of mind. This is seemingly the story of Kawhi Leonard over the past three seasons. He was out 30 games in the 2020-2021 season; was sidelined for the entire 2021-2022 campaign recovering from a torn ACL, sustained in the 2021 playoffs versus the Utah Jazz; and played in only 52 of the Clippers 82 regular season games in the current season.

So naturally, his standing among the game’s best players, if only in perception, diminished. No longer was the two-time NBA Finals MVP with the San Antonio Spurs (2014) and Toronto Raptors (2019) mentioned with the same reverence as the game’s unequivocal superstars Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid et al despite being All NBA five times, including First Team in 2021.

This postseason, the 31-year-old Leonard is reminding the basketball world he is as good as any player on the planet when he’s healthy and engaged. His 38 points in Game 1 of the No. 5 seed Clippers’ 115-110 opening round win in their best-of-seven series versus the No. 4 seed Phoenix Suns on the road on Sunday underscored the bona fides Leonard maintains.

Leading up to the playoffs, he was named the league’s Western Conference Player of Week for games played from Monday, April 3, through Sunday, April 9, making it the eighth time in his career he has won the award. During that stretch, he averaged 25.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 4.7 assists. The Clippers lost to the Suns in Game 2 on Tuesday night by 123-109, but Leonard had another strong game with 31 points on 11-20 shooting and eight rebounds.

Leonard is doing his work without eight-time All-Star Paul George, who has been sidelined since March 21 with a sprained right knee and is unlikely to return for the Clippers current series. If they advance to the conference semifinals, George is expected to return.
The health of Memphis Grizzlies star point guard Ja Morant is dubious. He has a soft tissue bruise in his right hand that occurred in Game 1 of the No. 2 Grizzlies’ home game against the West’s No. 7 seed Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.

Midway through the fourth quarter, the 6-2 Morant elevated at the rim to dunk over the Lakers’ 6-10 forward Anthony Davis and fell awkwardly. He did not return and the Grizzlies went on to lose by 128-112. His status for Game 2 last night (Wednesday), as of late yesterday afternoon, was uncertain. Games 3 and 4 will be in L.A. this Saturday and Monday.

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