NBA

Doc: Kawhi would return in ‘phenomenal’ shape

    Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.

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LOS ANGELES — Doc Rivers says he isn’t sure what shape or form the NBA will take if it can resume this season, but he is certain that Kawhi Leonard will be in “phenomenal” shape if there’s a postseason.

As teams try to stay ready during this unprecedented time, with the season halted due to the global coronavirus pandemic, the LA Clippers’ All-Star has been able to do something he wasn’t able to do last summer, when his body was recovering from injuries and a long title run with Toronto, according to Rivers.

“I know Kawhi’s overworking. I can guarantee you that,” Rivers said with a laugh Wednesday on a video call with reporters. “And the difference is, during the summer, Kawhi couldn’t work, you know, so now he’s got this break, and he’s able to train.

“The Kawhi we’ll see will be in phenomenal shape. PG [Paul George] is another guy that’s gonna be in phenomenal shape.”

When the season was suspended on March 11, after the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, the Clippers (44-20) had won seven of their previous eight games.

After going over all the wins and losses during this break, Rivers believes his team was on the verge of a big run, as it was finally healthy and developing chemistry.

“We’re really good,” Rivers said of what he knows about his team after studying the season again. “What I know for real was the last 10 games, we were turning into the Clippers. You could literally feel it … We started understanding each other … We were playing seamlessly through Kawhi and PG. It wasn’t forced anymore. Guys weren’t trying to stay out of each other’s way. You could feel the rhythm. Even the Lakers loss [on March 8], where we, in my opinion, played horrendous in that game, and that was one of our step-back games … we still had a chance, and it was our D-game, you know?

“I really thought we were about to make a crazy run down the stretch. And unfortunately, bam, it stopped. … I love where we were at. And seeing the way we play and how we were coming together, this team’s good. I think we could beat anybody.”

Rivers has assigned all of his assistants potential playoff opponents to scout and prepare for, with the Clippers second in the Western Conference when play was suspended. The coach said he wonders about the possibilities and scenarios for an NBA postseason, whether it be “an NCAA tournament style” or a best-of-three format.

“If it means we get to play and continue our pursuit for the goal that we want, I feel like Dr. Seuss: ‘I will play anywhere. I will play in a house. I will play in a mouse,'” Rivers said. “I think that’s how our team feels. We don’t care where, when, why, what. We just want to go after our goal. I’m speaking by myself on that.”

The Clippers have tried to keep their players in the best shape they can be in by providing them with personal workout equipment to build home gyms if needed. Having Steve Ballmer, the owner with the deepest pockets in the NBA, has benefited the Clippers during this time of uncertainty.

“Our performance and medical team did a great job of kind of seeing probably what lies ahead and said we’re probably gonna have to get each of our players home gyms,” said Lawrence Frank, president of basketball operations. “And by those guys being ahead of it, it allowed them to get the ball rolling because once the NBA did close facilities, when all teams were calling for supplies, there was such a run because you’re not just dealing with the NBA but with all athletes, and literally, people were out of equipment.”

The team has held workouts for players through Zoom, with nine attending the video workouts at times. Frank said very few Clippers players have been able to shoot a basketball, though.

“Some guys have an outside hoop right by them,” Frank said. “We had one guy who tried to drive all around L.A. to find an outdoor hoop, but all the rims were taken down.”

Rivers is doing his best to keep his team prepared. He has been calling three to four of his players every day and has been using Zoom to hold meetings with his coaches two to three times a week.

“If this gets started, you can tell our players are invested in the season,” Rivers said. “And they don’t want this season to go away. And they’re working like it is not going to go away.”

Rivers spoke with his former Celtics player Kevin Garnett after Garnett was named to the 2020 Hall of Fame class on Saturday. The fiery former MVP told his old coach that this could be the greatest playoffs ever if the NBA can continue this season because every team should be healthy.

“In typical KG fashion … he basically said, ‘I don’t wanna hear any motherf—ing excuses!'” Rivers said. “… If we can get back to this, and guys can get their rhythm in time, that’ll be the whole key. It can be the best-played playoffs in the history because of that.”

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