Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and John Wall watched from baseline seats as the Clippers opened their preseason at the Climate Pledge Arena on Friday night. You won’t be left out for long.
The Clippers veterans, who went without a planned break in Friday’s 121-81 win over Macabbi Ra’anana of Israel – a group that also included Norman Powell, Nicolas Batum and Reggie Jackson – are likely to make their debut on Monday , when they play against the Portland Trail Blazers here. Coach Tyronn Lue indicated Leonard would play what was his first game since injuring his right knee on June 14, 2021.
Wall, who last played on April 23, 2021, is also returning to the NBA after a long absence. Wall did pregame practice with assistant Brian Shaw, though he later did not compete.
What Lue says he wants to see during preseason are signs his team can live up to their expectations of becoming one of the league’s top defenders.
“That’s what we’re going to hang our hat on this year, which is that we’re trying to be a great defensive team,” said Lue.
“Getting Kawhi up to date is the first and most important thing, but then [George] always sets the tone by protecting the best player and with those two guys on the floor we really should be a great defensive team,” said Lue.
His rationale: Without Leonard all of last season and with George only available for 31 games through injury, the Clippers still finished with the NBA’s eighth-best defensive rating at 109.5 points per 100 possessions. The areas of improvement were obvious: the Clippers fought a fight all season and saw their opponents hit a league-best 15 points per game on second-chance opportunities, and also ranked in the bottom third of the league in near- Break points allowed.
“If we add these two guys back, we should be really good and elite and that shouldn’t be an excuse for that,” Lue said.
Those will be areas for Lue to assess next Monday when Leonard, George and the others are back in the lineup against the Trail Blazers.
Against an overwhelmed Maccabi Ra’anana, Lue wanted to see if the team could “play right” after just three days of training camp in Las Vegas. The Clippers rolled to a win, leading by 21 points after a quarter and by 35 points at halftime when one of the veterans playing, winger Robert Covington, repeatedly exploited faulty passes for steals that resulted in easy baskets.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/clippers/story/2022-09-30/clippers-ease-into-preseason-beat-israeli-team-seattle Clippers ease into preseason with victory over Israeli team