The 2021-22 NBA season is set to tip off on Oct. 19 (ET). In preparation for the upcoming season, we're dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.
Next up? The LA Clippers.
2020-21 season record
47-25, fourth in Western Conference
Keon Johnson, No. 21 pick in 2021 NBA Draft
Jason Preston, No. 33 pick in 2021 NBA Draft
Brandon Boston Jr., No. 51 pick in 2021 NBA Draft
Moses Wright, undrafted free agent
Justise Winslow, free agency
Harry Giles III, free agency
George King, free agency
Eric Bledsoe, trade
Patrick Beverley, trade
Rajon Rondo, trade
Daniel Oturu, trade
|PG||Reggie Jackson||Eric Bledsoe||Jason Preston|
|SG||Terance Mann||Luke Kennard||Keon Johnson||Brandon Boston Jr.|
|SF||Paul George||Justise Winslow||George King||Kawhi Leonard*|
|PF||Marcus Morris Sr.||Nicolas Batum||Moses Wright|
|C||Ivica Zubac||Serge Ibaka*||Harry Giles III|
* Ibaka received back surgery in June 2021 and his status is unknown to begin the season.
* Leonard received surgery on a partially torn ACL in July 2021. He is out indefinitely.
3 key storylines
Kawhi Leonard's ACL injury
Leonard was on another level before his postseason was cut short in 2021. Averaging 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game while shooting 57.3 percent from the field, he dominated his competition, scoring over 30 points three times and over 40 points twice in just 11 games. The Clippers just tied up their Western Conference Semifinals series against the top-seeded Utah Jazz after falling down 2-0, placing themselves two wins away from their first Conference Finals appearance in franchise history before Leonard went down with a knee injury.
LA would still go on to defeat the Jazz and advance to the Western Conference Finals, but it had to move forward without its superstar. Originally downplaying the injury, there was some hope that Leonard would return before the end of the series against the Phoenix Suns, but it was eventually announced that the two-time Finals MVP would miss the rest of the postseason after suffering a partial ACL tear.
With the injury coming so late into the already-pushed back 2020-21 season, Leonard has less time than usual to recover from the surgery he received in July. There has been no update on a timetable for his return, so the Clippers will have to plan to be without their five-time All-Star forward for the majority - if not all - of the 2021-22 season.
If Leonard makes a return at any point, the Clippers will likely rejoin the conversation of teams that can win the West and, potentially, the NBA title. But without Kawhi, the responsibility falls on Paul George and company to keep the team afloat until their franchise player can return to the floor.
No. 1 option Paul George
This isn't uncharted territory for George. The seven-time All-Star is no stranger to being a No. 1 option.
Now seems like a good time to remind everyone that George was the guy on the Indiana Pacers teams that went to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals in 2013 and 2014, going toe-to-toe with LeBron James and the Miami Heat's Big 3.
George was only 22 and 23 years old during those runs. He had the Pacers one win away from the NBA Finals in 2013 and two wins away from the NBA Finals in 2014, and he'll need to flashback to that version of himself to keep the Clippers in contention this season.
We already saw George step up in a big way once Leonard went down last playoffs, averaging 29.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.4 steals over the eight games his co-star was absent. His 37-point, 16-rebound, five-assist performance in a pivotal Game 5 win against the Jazz helped the Clippers take a 3-2 lead. He also had a jaw-dropping 41-point, 13-rebound double-double to go with six assists to keep LA's season alive against the Phoenix Suns.
If George can put together an entire season of what we saw in the playoffs, the Clippers should be just fine until Leonard returns.
Can Reggie Jackson replicate his 2021 NBA Playoffs performance?
And speaking of impressive playoff performances, Jackson was undeniably one of the biggest heroes of the Clippers' run to the Conference Finals.
Taking over as the team's starting point guard after suffering back-to-back losses to start the postseason, Jackson helped turn LA's fate around. From that point forward, he averaged 18.9 points, 3.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game, knocking down 3s at a 42.0 percent clip. He had nine games with over 20 points, knocking down three or more 3s in all but four playoff games last season.
His play not only solidified his role as the Clippers' starting point guard, but also earned him a new two-year, $22 million deal this offseason.
With Leonard out, it will be equally as important that Jackson maintains the same level of play we saw in the playoffs last season.
5 games to watch
Oct. 5 at Portland Trail Blazers
Paul George versus Damian Lillard. A matchup that has felt significant since Lillard sent George and the Oklahoma City Thunder home at the buzzer in the 2019 NBA Playoffs. With George taking over as the No. 1 option in LA while Kawhi Leonard recovers from ACL surgery, this should be an awesome duel between two talented scorers.
Nov. 21 vs. Dallas Mavericks
The Clippers and Mavericks have a bit of a rivalry brewing after meeting in the first round of the NBA Playoffs in consecutive seasons. LA has come out on top twice, but not before phenom guard Luka Doncic put on a pair of epic playoff performances. Watching Doncic and the Mavericks try and get revenge on George and the Clippers will be must-see TV.
Dec. 3 at Los Angeles Lakers
The first Clippers-Lakers matchup of the season. The Battle for LA really took off in the 2019 offseason when Anthony Davis teamed up with LeBron James and the Clippers landed George and Leonard, but this year, there's another added element to it. Although George will likely be without his wingman Leonard at this point in the season, he'll have to keep up with all three of James, Davis and Russell Westbrook to give the Clippers a fighting chance.
Dec. 13 vs. Phoenix Suns
Many expected the Suns to roll the Clippers without Leonard available, but LA made the Conference Finals as difficult as possible for Phoenix. George went off for 41 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in Game 5 to keep his team in the hunt for the Western Conference title, but Chris Paul closed out the series with 41 points and eight assists to assure he'd advance to his first-ever NBA Finals. The Clippers will be on the hunt for payback in their first meeting this season.
Dec. 15 at Utah Jazz
The Jazz owned the best record in the NBA for the majority of last season and it felt like it could be the year they would finally break through and make a push to the NBA Finals. With their Western Conference Semifinals playoff series against the Clippers tied at 2-2 when Leonard went down with an injury, it seemed like destiny that Utah would get the job done and move on. George, Reggie Jackson and Terance Mann had other plans, taking the next two games to help the Clippers advance to the Conference Finals. Utah will want to avenge that disappointing loss in its first meeting against the team that bounced it.
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