The Clippers’ season-worst, 122-91 loss Thursday night in Denver set the stage: Would Leonard play on consecutive nights for the first time this season?
That it was even a question stemmed from Lue’s decision to bench his starters at halftime Thursday with the Clippers trailing by 34 points, in part to preserve their rest ahead of the next day’s game in Minnesota. Leonard didn’t agree with the call, saying Thursday night that it was a time “when we need to be in there and dig ourselves out of those holes and learn what we’re doing instead of flipping the page and going to the next game.”
Leonard’s season-low 18 minutes and George’s season-low 13 in Denver left open the possibility of both playing the next day in Minneapolis, as the team listed them as questionable. But both were held out, with George sidelined to protect a hamstring he tweaked Monday.
Lue and Leonard said Thursday that they hope at some point this season Leonard will be cleared to play both ends of back-to-back games, but that figures to be a carefully scripted moment the team can plan for days in advance or longer. The unexpected blowout and benching Thursday made it a more sudden possibility, but it likely was too short of notice for a team that is especially cautious with health. Wall also has yet to play both nights of a back-to-back.
Playing on consecutive nights is important to Leonard, as it would set a benchmark in his durability this season after he missed last season because of an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his right knee.
“Trying to establish games with me hitting those high 30-minute marks,” said Leonard, who had averaged 36.9 minutes in the six games preceding the Denver rout. “Just going to keep building and see where it goes.”
And where the Clippers’ season goes from here is a question that ranks among the most fascinating in the NBA.