San Antonio received encouraging news of Leonard reportedly being available to play as early as Thursday against the New Orleans Pelicans, barring a setback.
The two-time Defensive Player of the Year has only been on the court for only nine games, with the Spurs being without their best player and franchise cornerstone for nearly the entire season.
And San Antonio are desperate to get him back for a critical stretch run.
After keeping the machine humming as the third-best team in the Western Conference for most of the season, the Spurs have started to tumble in the standings.
A 104-94 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday dropped them to 37-29, which places them seventh in the standings and just one game from 10th.
San Antonio are just 3-10 over the past 13 games and their schedule to close out the season does them no favours, with match-ups remaining against Houston (twice), New Orleans (twice), Golden State, Washington (twice), Oklahoma City and Portland.
The tough finish, combined with the fact there are 10 teams battling for eight spots in the West, means it’s conceivable San Antonio could miss the playoffs for the first time since 1997 – easily the longest such streak in the league.
The Spurs' loss at the Thunder gives them 21 road losses on the season, clinching their 1st losing record on the road since 1996-97.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 11, 2018
Per @EliasSports research, San Antonio’s 20-season streak of winning road records was the longest in NBA history.
Leonard, if he’s healthy, could change the whole equation.
Though the Spurs are just 5-4 this season when the forward plays, his presence gives them a singular talent to lean on that is otherwise missing from the lineup.
Knowing head coach Gregg Popovich and the culture San Antonio have cultivated over the years, there’s every chance the Spurs won’t go down easy – regardless of whether or not Leonard plays.
“You’ve got no choice. You can’t give in,” LaMarcus Aldridge said after the Thunder loss. “If you give in, that shows your character. I don’t think anyone of this team is a quitter.”
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