LOS ANGELES — LeBron James and Dwyane Wade each took necessary steps in their partnership to help the Miami Heat achieve their goals of an NBA championship. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are hoping their partnership will yield the same results for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Leonard and George are entering Year 4 together, and it has been a far bumpier ride than anyone could’ve envisioned. The star duo had their first year halted by COVID-19, and the bubble was disastrous for them amid everything going on. Their second season was on track to result in at least an NBA Finals berth, but Kawhi Leonard’s ACL injury ended his playoff run and all of his third season in Los Angeles.

Their fourth season is nearly here, and this is where the pressure on Leonard and George to deliver starts to build.

The dynamic between the duo has always been a wonder to watch, and it has never been an issue for the two to figure out. Their tenure with the Clippers has yet to yield an NBA championship, but it’s not for lack of chemistry or a question of roles.

Following their 2011 NBA Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Dwyane Wade admitted to taking a step back and giving LeBron James the keys in order for the Heat to be successful.

“It was probably one of the hardest things I had to do in sports was to, in a sense, take a step back,” Wade told ESPN’s Israel Gutierrez in 2012. “A lot of people don’t understand. They’ll say, ‘Why would you do that?’ To me, I want more success from winning. I don’t want another scoring title. I’m just trying to win.

“I felt that it had to come from nobody but me, to say, ‘Go ahead, man. You’re the best player in the world. We’ll follow your lead.’ Once I said that, I thought he kind of exhaled a little bit.”

Paul George played against James and Wade as a member of the Indiana Pacers. In fact, George faced them in three consecutive playoff series, including Eastern Conference Finals appearances in 2013 and 2014.

The Clippers star believes a clear understanding of the hierarchy — aka who the top dog is — has been one of the keys to the successful partnership.

“Look at the wing-wing [duo of] Dwyane Wade and LeBron [James],” Paul George said when asked for a similar wing-wing star duo. “I think it just comes down to Kawhi is the number one. And I am totally fine with that. I think I try to complement him with being able to take the load off of him. Everybody says, ‘Kawhi and you are 1 and 1, or 1A-1B.’ I’ll publicly say, I’m the 2. Kawhi’s the 1. I’m the 2. So that part, we nipped in the bud. Like there’s no ego when it comes to that.

As Paul George proved in the 2021 postseason following Kawhi Leonard’s ACL injury, he’s still very capable of carrying a team on a night-to-night basis.

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“With that being said, I believe in my talent and what I can do and I believe on any night of what I am capable of. But I feel my job is to make everybody better. That is what I try to do when I am on the floor, just make the game easy for everybody whether it is creating or just being aggressive period and making reads off of that. So I think we will go a long ways if everybody just knows their role and what we bring to the table. Everything else is easy, we just roll the ball out and we get after it.”

When asked, Leonard struggled to name any specific all-time duo that could compare to himself and George. And he’s not wrong. A majority of duos in the league have been guards and centers. Occasionally, you’ll find the forward-center star combo like a Larry Bird and Kevin McHale or the guard-forward combo like a Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

The difference is the league is significantly more perimeter-oriented and more complete skill sets are at an all-time high. Three-pointers are being shot five times as much as when Jordan won his first NBA title with the Chicago Bulls.

“Just watching games, nitpicking at different players and seeing what they did to win,” Leonard said on watching other star duos. “It’s a different challenge. If we look back at any team that had two big wings, it’s not gonna be the same. It’s a different NBA. We have to focus on ourselves and see what we need to do to either dig in where we’re not doing well and see what we are doing well and find those little niches.”

The Clippers duo has clicked from the moment they arrived in Los Angeles, and they’ll have a chance to showcase that again this season.

On Sunday, John Wall got his first taste of what playing with the Leonard-George duo is like.

“Sh*t, it was great,” Wall said on making his first Clippers start alongside Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. “I ain’t never played with two guys that’s superstars on that type of level, you know what I mean? So it makes the job easier for me.”

There’s no question this is the deepest team both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have been on. There’s also no question that this is a championship-or-bust type of season.

Leonard will be the first to tell you, however, that steps in the journey can’t be skipped.

“We are striving to be great,” Leonard explained. “We want to be one of the last teams standing and just being able to start that process has been amazing. You can’t skip steps. It’s a journey. Like I told them, we are entering a tunnel and it is going to be dark for a while, but at the end, it’s going to be light and enjoy. That is just my whole mindset of it. Trying to go out there and at practice or if it is a preseason game, put all our effort into it so we can get better each and every day.”

The Clippers play their final preseason game on Wednesday against the Denver Nuggets. They will open their regular season against the Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 20.