How Kawhi Leonard’s back injury impacts Clippers title odds, Western Conference standings

Clippers fans let out a collective groan on Tuesday night after hearing that Kawhi Leonard is injured yet again. He exited the arena after experiencing back problems that limited him to just 12 minutes in a loss to the Wolves. 

Clippers coach Ty Lue revealed afterwards Leonard has been dealing with back spams for the past few days. He appeared to aggravate the injury against the Wolves. 

It’s unclear how long Leonard’s injury will last, but it has the potential to completely reshape the Western Conference and derail the Clippers’ season. 

MORE: How long is Kawhi Leonard out?

Kawhi Leonard has been playing at an All-NBA level

Leonard has had a fantastic season, missing only six games before Tuesday’s injury. That number should go up. 

He has looked like peak Kawhi this year. He’s back to wreaking havoc defensively, using his giant hands to rip the ball away from players and getting in the passing lanes. And he’s had one of his best seasons shooting the ball, hitting 42.6 percent of his 3s while posting a career-high 58.5 effective field goal percentage. 

MORE: Kawhi Leonard quietly looking like a superstar again

Leonard has been a top-10 player in the league this year. The Clippers were briefly in first place in the first week of February behind his play. Without him, they have been a completely different team.

The Clippers have struggled without Kawhi Leonard

With Leonard only playing the first quarter against the Wolves, the Clippers were blown out by 18 points. That shouldn’t come as a surprise — they have gone 3-3 and been outscored by 38 points in the games that he’s missed. 

The Clippers have been bad all season when Kawhi sits. Per Basketball-Reference, they outscore opponents by 8.8 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor, and get outscored by 3.1 points per 100 possessions when he sits. 

All-in-one metrics paint Leonard as one of the 10 most valuable players this year. 

Paul George will have to step up his scoring, but he is going through his own injury issues. He’s been dealing with irritation in the meniscus of his left knee all season. 

The Clippers are also missing Russell Westbrook, who is likely out for the rest of the regular season after having surgery on his hand. 

Kawhi Leonard’s effect on the Western Conference standings

The Clippers are in a tight battle with the Pelicans for the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. They hold a two-game lead as of Wednesday, and they’re set to play each other on Friday. 

Home-court advantage is going to be crucial in that 4/5 matchup. The Pelicans already have a 2-1 edge in the series. They have played the Clippers extremely well over the past few seasons, winning 11 of their last 14, including a victory in the 2022 Play-In Tournament that ended Los Angeles’ postseason hopes. 

The Pelicans have quietly been one of the hottest teams in the league, winning their last four games. While they get little to no national recognition, they’ve been a top-10 team on both sides of the ball, ranking eighth in offense and sixth in defense. They’re a very deep team that hasn’t had great health this year but has still managed to put up a stellar 39-25 record. 

This also takes the Clippers out of what is now a very tight three-way race for the top seed in the West between the Thunder, Nuggets and Wolves. Only half a game separates those three. Los Angeles had been in that mix for most of the year. It will now hope to cling onto that No. 4 seed. 

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