PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- After being cautious and playing in just two preseason games, Kawhi Leonard will have no limitations on him when he makes his LA Clippers' debut on Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Coach Doc Rivers said there will be no playing-time cap on his new star forward when Leonard faces LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the highly anticipated season opener between the Clippers and Lakers.
Leonard played a total of 33 minutes this preseason, averaging 10 points, four assists and 1.5 rebounds in two games. He logged 10 minutes and had seven points and six assists in his preseason debut against Denver before playing 22 minutes against Dallas and scoring 13 points while shooting 5-for-19 from the field.
Leonard said he felt much better entering this training camp than a year ago when he came off a quad injury that limited him to a total of nine games during the 2017-18 season in San Antonio. He played in a total of 60 regular-season games last season as the Toronto Raptors monitored his health with load management. That allowed him to play 24 postseason games and help him win NBA Finals MVP and lead the Raptors to their first championship.
Leonard said his playing time and health would be managed differently this season and he largely paced himself in the preseason as the Clippers played it safe. Besides playing in two preseason games, he participated in scrimmages, including an open practice in front of fans last week.
Leonard has set the tone for other players with his all-business workouts, including going through a long workout on Saturday.
"It's hard to explain," Rivers said of Leonard's work ethic. "He's maniacal and it's long and it's very serious. I think for the young guys, even for our young coaches, like the seriousness that he takes his workouts [with], I've seen a couple of players that I won't name that I've had, but other than that I haven't seen anything like that. He's not goofing around. He's getting it done. No chat. It's work time. He approaches practices that way, and I think it gives a lot of guys a serious focus that a coach can't give you -- only your best player can give you."
Although he hasn't had to play much in the preseason, Leonard is ready to help lead the Clippers deep into the playoffs. Expectations are higher than they've ever been for the Clippers, who are title contenders with Leonard and Paul George joining an overachieving and gritty group from last season. George is continuing to work his way back toward a possible November return from surgeries on both of his shoulders.
"Just here to help win games," Leonard said of his presence. "Try to build a culture of winning and making everybody know that we're playing 'til April [focused on regular season first and then postseason] and that's pretty much it. Just trying to be the smartest team every night and try to build on something."
"I feel like everybody wants to win," Leonard added. "Everybody is a competitor. You know, how are we going to respond after big wins, tough losses, missed shots, that is what it's about. Just keeping a steady mindset on the ultimate goal and not getting discouraged when things go bad or things get too good."