Tyronn Lue benching Kawhi Leonard late vs. Lakers is a problem

The NBA has long been skeptical of the concept of load management, claiming that it lacks scientific evidence. However, the Los Angeles Clippers seem to be taking a different approach with their star player, Kawhi Leonard. They are so concerned about his well-being that they will bench him when they feel he needs system maintenance.

This was evident in a recent game against their cross-town rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers. With just under three minutes left in the game and the Clippers trailing by three, coach Tyronn Lue decided to bench Leonard. He later admitted that he made a mistake by reinserting him with just 17 seconds remaining, as the Lakers escaped with a win.

The situation with Leonard is quite bizarre. Lue blamed himself for inserting Leonard too early, citing the 35-minute limit on his playing time due to it being the first night of a back-to-back. Leonard ended up playing 34 minutes and 42 seconds, which suggests that there may be some truth to the rumors that he is an advanced machine that needs careful monitoring.

Despite this incident, the Clippers have been performing well since December, winning 14 of their past 17 games. Leonard, after a slow start to the season, has been playing at a high level and has returned to being one of the best two-way players in the league.

It’s important to note that Leonard doesn’t make the decision to come out of the game himself. Team physiologists determine his output capacity and recommend minutes thresholds to avoid injury. Leonard has been following these recommendations, sitting out a few games with a left hip contusion but playing significant minutes in most games.

Load management was supposed to be a thing of the past, with the NBA implementing new policies to discourage teams from resting their star players. However, the Clippers seem to be on the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to load management. They are playing the long game, prioritizing Leonard’s health over short-term success.

On the other hand, the Lakers, led by 39-year-old LeBron James, have taken a different approach. James has been playing around 35 minutes per game, despite being seven years older than Leonard. He has rationalized this by saying that he knows how much work he has put in to be able to play extended minutes.

The Clippers’ philosophy may be seen as too cautious, especially when compared to the Lakers’ approach. They are playing five games in eight days, which Lue used as a reasoning for not budging on Leonard’s restriction. However, playoff basketball is often intense and demanding, and the Clippers will need to determine if their strategy of preserving Leonard’s minutes will pay off in the long run.

Overall, the Clippers’ adherence to load management and their cautious approach with Leonard may be seen as a warning sign. It suggests that they are too reliant on their algorithm and may not be able to defy their history of underperforming in crucial moments. While one loss won’t cost them too much, it raises doubts about their ability to trust this team when it matters most.

In the end, time will tell if the Clippers’ strategy pays off. But for now, it’s clear that they are prioritizing Leonard’s well-being and will continue to monitor his playing time closely. Whether this approach proves successful or not remains to be seen.

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