Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard ready to play more minutes if needed
The Toronto Raptors were heavily criticized for their stingy load management of Kawhi Leonard during the regular season, though some understood the plan in place to keep their new star healthy for the postseason. So it came as head-scratching to see him play a mere 33 minutes on Game 1 against the Orlando Magic, as his team took a 104-101 loss after a clutch D.J. Augustin game-winning trey.
Leonard had a strong 25 points, six rebounds and three assists in the game, but the question remained the same: why doesn’t he play more?
The 2014 Finals MVP noted he would be ready to play heavier minutes if need be.
“I’m ready to play more minutes if need be,” Leonard said, according to Dan Woike of The Los Angeles Times. “…At the beginning of the season, I’d think about all the hard work I’ve put in and just being happy to be able to play that first game, feeling good — way better than I was.”
The Raptors have tried to be awfully mindful of Leonard’s health concerns, often limiting his minutes when possible as well as giving him plenty of days off throughout the season.
“We got ahead of the game,” said first-year head coach Nick Nurse. “We originally made a plan, no back-to-backs. That made sense early. We kind of stayed ahead most of the time. And the team played well enough to have a little more luxury to keep going.
“I think we’ve felt for the last couple of months that we were ahead of the game and that there was no sense jeopardizing that. I think that’s where we find ourselves today.”
The 27-year-old played in only 60 of the team’s 82 games this season (73%), all which resulted in a career-high in points (26.6) and rebounds (7.3).
Yet at this point of the postseason, the Raptors and Leonard have to think about winning, not courting each other for next season.