Kawhi Leonard Plays Back-to-back Games After Injury Hiatus

Kawhi Leonard is one of the best players in the NBA, but he is also one of the most cautious when it comes to managing his health and workload. The LA Clippers star has been known to sit out games on back-to-back nights, especially after he suffered a serious knee injury in the 2021 playoffs that sidelined him for the entire 2021-22 season. However, on Saturday night, Leonard did something he had not done in two years: he played a game on zero days of rest. Leonard suited up for the Clippers against the New Orleans Pelicans, just one night after he played 18 minutes against the Memphis Grizzlies and left at halftime with the intention of playing the second leg of the back-to-back. Why did Leonard decide to play both games? What does this mean for his future availability and performance? And how has he fared historically on no days of rest? Here are some answers to these questions.

Why Did Leonard Play Both Games?

According to Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, Leonard wanted to play both games of the back-to-back as part of his recovery process from his knee injury. Lue said that Leonard had been cleared by the medical staff to do so, and that he had a plan to limit his minutes in each game. Lue also said that Leonard wanted to help his team, which was missing several key players due to injuries and health and safety protocols. The Clippers were without Paul George, Eric Gordon, Marcus Morris and Serge Ibaka, among others, leaving them short-handed against two playoff contenders in the Grizzlies and the Pelicans. Leonard said that he felt good physically and mentally after playing both games, and that he was happy to contribute to his team’s win over the Pelicans. He also said that he was not worried about any potential setbacks or risks from playing on no days of rest.

What Does This Mean for His Future Availability and Performance?

Leonard’s decision to play both games of the back-to-back could be seen as a positive sign for his confidence and comfort level with his knee. It could also indicate that he is willing to be more flexible and adaptable with his load management strategy, depending on the situation and the needs of his team. However, this does not mean that Leonard will play every back-to-back from now on. Lue said that Leonard’s availability will still depend on how he feels and what the medical staff advises. He also said that Leonard will have some scheduled rest days throughout the season, as part of his long-term plan. Leonard’s performance on no days of rest could also vary depending on several factors, such as his minutes, his usage, his opponents and his teammates. On Saturday night, he played 32 minutes and scored 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, along with six rebounds and four assists. He looked sharp and efficient, leading the Clippers to a 112-104 victory over the Pelicans. However, this was not always the case in his previous games on no days of rest. According to StatMuse, Leonard played six games on zero days of rest in 2020-21, averaging 19.6 points on 49.5 percent shooting, 6.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 31.5 minutes per game. He also had some subpar performances, such as scoring 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting against the Utah Jazz in March 2021.

How Has He Fared Historically on No Days of Rest?

Leonard’s history on no days of rest goes back to his early years with the San Antonio Spurs, where he was part of a championship-winning team that prioritized resting its stars for the playoffs. Leonard played only 13 games on zero days of rest in his first six seasons with the Spurs, averaging 14.8 points on 48.9 percent shooting, 6.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 29.8 minutes per game. After joining the Toronto Raptors in 2018-19, Leonard played more games on no days of rest as part of his load management program that aimed to keep him healthy for the postseason. He played nine games on zero days of rest that season, averaging 26.4 points on 50 percent shooting, 7.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 34 minutes per game. He also led the Raptors to their first NBA title that year. Final Thoughts: Kawhi Leonard’s Back-to-Back Decision and Its Implications Kawhi Leonard’s decision to play both games of a back-to-back after a long absence due to injury raises several interesting questions about his load management philosophy, his health status, and his role as a team player. On the one hand, it shows that Leonard is willing to take more risks and responsibilities than he has in the past, and that he trusts his own body and mind to perform at a high level without too much rest. On the other hand, it also highlights the delicate balance between individual health and team success, and the potential trade-offs that may arise when a star player tries to do too much too soon. One possible reason for Leonard’s willingness to play both games could be his desire to prove his doubters wrong and show that he is still one of the best players in the league, despite his injury history and his load management reputation. Another reason could be his motivation to help his teammates and coaches, who are struggling with injuries and absences of their own, and who could use his leadership and talent on the court. Whatever the reasons, Leonard’s decision sends a message that he is not content to sit out games or take it easy, and that he wants to make a difference whenever he can. At the same time, Leonard’s decision also raises concerns about his long-term health and durability, and whether he is risking further injuries or setbacks by playing too much too soon. While his knee injury seems to have healed enough for him to play on back-to-back nights, it is unclear whether his body can handle this type of workload for an entire season, especially given his history of missing games and his age (he will turn 31 in June). Moreover, his performance on no days of rest has been mixed in the past, and he may need more time to adjust to this type of schedule before he can sustain his usual level of production. Overall, Leonard’s back-to-back decision is both encouraging and cautionary, and it highlights the complex nature of load management in professional sports. While it is understandable that players and teams want to win as many games as possible and showcase their talents to fans, it is also important to prioritize health and longevity, especially in a sport as physically demanding as basketball. As such, Leonard’s future availability and performance will depend on a delicate balance between his personal goals and his team’s needs, and on the medical staff’s expertise and guidance. Only time will tell whether Leonard’s back-to-back gamble pays off in the short and long term, but one thing is certain: he is still one of the most intriguing and talented players in the NBA, and his presence on the court is always worth watching.