Kawhi Leonard could soon be making his return to the San Antonio Spurs.
ESPN is reporting that Leonard could return to the Spurs as early as Thursday against the New Orleans Pelicans, which is a complete 180 from the way things looked just a few weeks ago. Leonard has been battling a lingering quad injury all season, and Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich even told reporters on February 21 that he didn’t expect Leonard to play again this season:
“I’ll be surprised if he returns this season,” Popovich said. “We only have X number of games left in the season, and he’s still not ready to go. If by some chance he is, it’s going to be pretty late into the season. It’s going to be a tough decision. How late do you bring somebody back? I’m just trying to be honest and logical. I’d be surprised if he gets back this year.”
Shortly after Popovich made this statement, reports leaked out that Leonard and team doctors had disagreements about how to handle the injury, and many started to speculate that the drama surrounding the rehabilitation of the injury could be enough to drive Leonard away from the team. So much for all of that, right?
Leonard hasn’t played since January 13, and only played nine games after initially returning from the same injury. In those nine games, Leonard averaged 16.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. While his field goal percentage was about the same as it has always been, it was evident Leonard was having trouble knocking down jump shots. He hit only 31% of his threes in those nine games which is down 7% from his clip a season ago.
While San Antonio has stayed afloat in the Western Conference playoff picture without Leonard for a large portion of the season, it’s very unlikely that they will be able to win a playoff series without Leonard’s presence. The Spurs currently sit at 37-29 on the year, and are the 7th seed in the West. That means right now they would match-up with the Golden State Warriors in the first-round of the playoffs, who are they unlikely to beat with or without Leonard anyway.
A returning Leonard could potentially throttled the Spurs out of the 7th seed and all the way up to the 3rd seed if all goes right. San Antonio is just three games back of the Portland Trail Blazers for the 3rd seed in the West, and is even closer to catching the New Orleans Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Minnesota Timberwolves in the standings.
The point is, sorting out the Western Conference picture will be exciting, and it’ll be even better if the Spurs can get Leonard back to help decide it.
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