With Kawhi expected back, Clippers host Blazers


After sitting out Wednesday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles superstar Kawhi Leonard is expected to return Thursday when the Clippers host the Portland Trail Blazers.

Leonard was held out for the second time in eight games for “load management.” The Clippers dropped both contests, with the other setback occurring against the Utah Jazz on Oct. 30.

Despite the defeats, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said the club will continue to periodically rest Leonard throughout the season, similar to the formula the Toronto Raptors used last season en route to their first NBA title.

Leonard is averaging 29.3 points (fourth in the NBA), 7.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 2.3 steals in six games. He scored 18 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter in his last game, a 105-94 win over the Jazz on Sunday.

“Kawhi’s going to sit out games, so that’s going to happen,” said Clippers center Montrezl Harrell, who scored a career-high 34 points to go along with 13 rebounds and five assists against the Bucks, who themselves were paced by 38 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists from Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“We can’t put that on him,” Harrell said, referring to the absence of Leonard. “We got good shots but they hit some big-time threes. We got great shots; they just didn’t happen to fall.”

The Clippers trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half against the Bucks but rallied in the second half. They made a late run by coming back from double digits in the fourth quarter.

Landry Shamet’s 3-pointer with 23.2 seconds remaining cut the Bucks’ lead to 126-124, but two free throws by Khris Middleton sealed the win for Milwaukee.

Lou Williams also scored 34 points for the Clippers.

The Trail Blazers dropped a 127-118 decision to the injury-plagued Golden State Warriors on Monday. Damian Lillard led Portland with a season-high 39 points on 15-of-26 shooting, including 5 of 13 on 3-pointers. Hassan Whiteside finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds, while Anfernee Simons contributed 14 points off the bench.

Lillard, who has topped 30 points in four contests this season, is averaging a club-high 31.1 points per game, which is third in the NBA. He has recorded 7.3 assists per outing.

Against the Warriors, who started three rookies, the Blazers led 63-60 at the half before Golden State used a solid second-half performance to prevail. Portland lost despite committing just six turnovers compared with 10 for Golden State.

However, the Blazers’ defense was unable to stop the Warriors’ offense, which received a career-high 34 points and 13 rebounds from rookie Eric Paschall. Six Warriors reached double figures.

“We didn’t really take away anything,” said Portland coach Terry Stotts, describing his team’s defense, according to the Oregonian. “Golden State was comfortable all night. They got rhythm to their shots. It was a little better the second half, but by that time, they were feeling pretty good.”

Portland is 1-3 since losing power forward Zach Collins to a shoulder injury. Collins, who underwent surgery Tuesday, is expected to be out until at least March.

This is the first of three regular-season contests between the clubs this season. The Blazers captured three of four meetings last season.

–Field Level Media