Kawhi Leonard is displaying signs that he has regained his All-Star form and has put his serious knee injury behind him.
Leonard looks for his third straight strong performance and also aims to score 24 or more points for the eighth time in 12 appearances when the Los Angeles Clippers host the soaring Denver Nuggets on Friday night.
Leonard tore the ACL in his right knee in June 2021 and missed all of last season. He missed more time earlier this season due to flare-ups in the knee but has recently felt healthier and his performance is showing that.
The two-time NBA Finals MVP scored 29 points during a 112-108 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday and followed up with a season-high 33 points and matched his season best of nine rebounds as Los Angeles posted a 113-101 home victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday.
The wire-to-wire triumph over the Mavericks halted a six-game slide for the Clippers.
Leonard, who played 36 minutes against the Mavericks, set the tone with 11 first-quarter points.
“I got in a rhythm, knocked down open shots, trusted in my teammates and we were able to pull it out,” said Leonard, who was 9-of-12 from the field.
Leonard also has played 34 or more minutes in six of his last seven appearances. He was on the floor for a season-high 38 minutes against the Hawks.
Norman Powell added 27 points for Los Angeles against Dallas. The Clippers, who led by as many as 23 points, committed just 10 turnovers and held a 46-32 rebounding edge.
“I thought it was a good game for us with the way we competed and scrapped for 48 minutes,” Los Angeles coach Tyronn Lue said. “And then Kawhi controlling the whole game and being very efficient with 33 points on 12 shots.”
Paul George (hamstring) didn’t play against Dallas and is expected to miss his fourth straight game. Luke Kennard (calf) could miss his third in a row.
The Nuggets, who are tied for first place in the Western Conference, trounced the Clippers 122-91 in Denver on Jan. 5. The Nuggets led 66-32 at halftime before finishing the shellacking.
Denver also delivered a one-sided victory on Wednesday when it steamrolled the Phoenix Suns 126-97.
Nikola Jokic recorded 21 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists and Bones Hyland also scored 21 for the Nuggets. Hyland was 5-of-7 from 3-point range.
“I was really just feeling it,” Hyland said. “The basket felt like it was really wide. It was like shooting a rock into the ocean.”
The victory was the fourth in a row for the Nuggets, all at home. Denver averaged 122.8 points during the homestand.
Overall, the Nuggets have won 14 of their past 17.
Denver guard Jamal Murray (left ankle) limped off the court in the fourth quarter against Phoenix, but coach Michael Malone was encouraged with the trainer’s report. Murray is listed as probable for Friday’s game.
“He just rolled his ankle a little bit and I was actually happy to hear that it wasn’t his knee,” Malone said, referring to Murray’s surgically repaired left knee. “It’s just his ankle and he said he’s fine and it wasn’t anything too bad.”
Jokic (wrist) is listed as questionable but has been regularly playing through the soreness. The two-time reigning MVP is averaging 24.9 points, 11 rebounds and 9.7 assists this season.
The Nuggets are 2-0 against the Clippers this season and have won seven of the past eight meetings.
–Field Level Media