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    Clippers hit the road with questions about Kawhi Leonard and James Harden
    • March 13, 2024

    The wheels haven’t come off, but fissures have begun to appear in the health of the two of the players driving the Clippers this season.

    Kawhi Leonard and James Harden are experiencing soreness and spasms that could affect their availability over the next few games. Leonard left during the first half of Tuesday night’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves with thoracic spasms and Harden was treated by a Clippers trainer long after the game.

    Coach Tyronn Lue said after the game that he wasn’t sure whether Leonard would accompany the team on its two-game trip to play the Chicago Bulls on Thursday and the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday. The spasms, according to the Clippers, made it difficult for Leonard to sit.

    “I hope so,” Lue said, about whether Leonard would make the trip.

    Harden said he would have to see how his shoulder felt overnight before determining whether he would make the trip.

    Leonard and Harden have been counted on heavily this season and are vital to the Clippers’ playoff hopes. Leonard, who played just 52 games the previous two seasons, has already played in 58 this season.

    He tried to play in his 59th on Tuesday.

    But after going through the morning shootaround and pregame warm-ups, his back didn’t loosen up and he left the arena during the second quarter. He played 12 minutes, posting six points, two rebounds and two assists before heading out.

    “That’s him,” fellow All-Star Paul George said. “I mean if he can go, whatever the case that the narrative people may think being around him, he’s going to try to push through what he can, and tonight was a sign of it.”

    How does an extended absence by Leonard affect the Clippers (41-23) with a month left in the regular season? He currently leads the team in scoring at 23.7 points per game, is second in rebounding (6.2) third in assists (3.7) and first in steals (1.7).

    His fingerprints are all over the Clippers’ rise in the Western Conference standings.

    “(Without him we miss) another scorer, another playmaker, another defender, another decision-maker and just another leader on the floor, a voice,” Goerge said. “So, it’s a lot when you’re trying to fill in and make up for the absence of Kawhi. But you got to pick up the pieces where you can.”

    George said he doesn’t feel any added pressure, though, to cement any cracks in their offense. The second-leading scorer, he is averaging 22.1 points, shooting 39.6% from 3-point range, and 5.3 rebounds.

    “I mean, I’m always playing aggressive, I’m always playing in attack mode,” George said. “I think obviously there’s more opportunities if he’s not on the floor, but I’m always just playing aggressive.”

    Harden’s contributions this season have been all over the court – in assists (8.3 a game), 3-point shooting (40.3%) and running the offense. It could be difficult to get back into the kind of rhythm the Clippers had before the All-Star break if Leonard and Harden miss any significant time.

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    The Clippers were already without guard Russell Westbrook because of a fractured hand, but the games go on, with or without their stars. The Clippers, who are fourth in the Western Conference, have 18 games remaining.

    “I mean, you got no other choice. Still got games to play,” Harden said.

    George agreed.

    “I mean that’s all we can do is get ready for the next one,” he said. “We got to pick up the pieces. Like I said, let Kawhi take whatever time he needs. We just need him to be healthy. But we’ll pick it up, keep it rolling and we’re not the only team down a man, so keep it running.”


    When: Thursday, 5 p.m. PT

    Where: United Center, Chicago

    TV/radio: Bally Sports SoCal, 570 AM

    ​ Orange County Register