Los Angeles Clippers Kawhi Leonard could return before the end of the season, which could affect the chances of a second consecutive NBA Finals appearance.
Without Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers have still advanced to an even 19-20 record and a tentative playoff spot.
But with him, the Clippers could perhaps move even further in the playoffs — and that hopeful wish might just come true before the season’s end.
According to NBA insider Chris Haynes, Leonard is “ahead of schedule” in his rehab, and it’s possible he could return before the season ends.
“League sources have informed me that is actually ahead of schedule in his rehab and that a return this season is a strong possibility,” Haynes said.
Since ACL repairs typically take a 6-9 month rehabilitation process, Leonard was expected to return sometime between January and April 2022. The injury update indicates Leonard will return sooner than expected, significantly shaping the Clippers season and their playoff seeding come April.
How Kawhi Leonard return could impact Clippers playoffs chances
“Speaking with multiple Clippers players, they say they won’t be concerned with their playoff slotting, believing that if fully healthy, they’ll be favorites over most in the West.”
At 19-20, the Clippers are currently ranked eighth in the Western Conference, but they rank fourth in a competitive Pacific Division. As of now, they would play against the top-ranked Phoenix Suns to kick off their playoff series. It’s still too early to tell, as Western Conference teams ranked 5-8 have between 18-20 wins and between 18-20 losses — a few wins and losses over the next 40 or so games could have the Clippers take the edge over the Dallas Mavericks. The top four teams have a clear advantage, but the Clippers believe Leonard can square up against any team, whether it’s the Memphis Grizzlies or the Phoenix Suns.
Without Leonard, the Clippers gave the Suns another win as they scored 89 to 106 on the road at Phoenix. If their Jan. 6 game is any indication of what could be their first playoff match, the Clippers will need Leonard to last in the series — and it’s difficult to imagine them toppling a Suns team with a vengeful CP3 on the hunt for a ring.
But Leonard and the Clippers have their own revenge to enact against the Suns. It was Leonard who led the Clippers to their first Western Conference Finals in franchise history last season, which was only cut short by Leonard’s untimely knee injury. Without him, the Clippers’ historic playoff run was cut short by none other than the Suns.
It seems Leonard will be able to return sooner rather than later and whisk the Clippers to the playoffs, a victory for the Los Angeles native and Clippers fans everywhere.