Kawhi Leonard returns, will start for Clippers after missing 12 games

Kawhi Leonard will return to the Clippers starting XI on Thursday.

LOS ANGELES – Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard will start Thursday’s game against the Detroit Pistons after missing the last 12 games with a right knee injury.

He had been listed as questionable earlier in the day.

Leonard played as a reserve in two games this season, hoping to maintain his workload and secure late-game minutes after missing the entire 2021-22 season while rehabilitating his surgically repaired right knee. The 11-year veteran averaged 12.5 points (44.4 FG%) and 6.5 rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench.

But Clippers coach Tyronn Lue has since decided against that approach.

“That was too mean,” Lue said of Leonard’s previous bank role. “I did not like it. You have the best player [on the bench].”

Leonard made progress in his recovery and made his debut in 5-on-5 practice on November 11. Since then, Lue said Leonard has done more 5v5 sessions “a few times.” Leonard also traveled with the Clippers on their recent two-game trip to Houston and Dallas.

Lue said Leonard will start with Paul George, Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris Sr. and Ivica Zubac. Leonard’s return could also help the Clippers mitigate the absence of guard Luke Kennard, who is out with a strained right calf.

“It will be a while before Kawhi returns to the Kawhi we know,” Lue said. “As great as he is, he has to understand that there will be some ups and downs.”

As such, the Clippers (8-7) go into Thursday’s game against Detroit (3-12) with some unanswered questions about the return of the 11th-year veteran:

Can Leonard take on a higher workload?

“I’m not sure,” Lue said.

Will Leonard finish the game?

“We’ll see,” Lue said.

Will Leonard have a set minute limit?

“He has some things that we need to make sure that we do right,” Lue said. “We’re not going to talk about minutes. But we just watch him throughout the game and make sure he’s okay.”

Mark Medina is a Senior Writer/Analyst for NBA.com. You can email him here, find his archive here, and follow him on twitter.

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