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San Antonio Spurs: Kawhi Leonard minutes projection vs. Kings

By Rob Wolkenbrod
SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 18:(EDITORS NOTE: Image has been converted to black and white.) A shot of Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs during the game against the LA Clippers on December 18, 2017 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 18:(EDITORS NOTE: Image has been converted to black and white.) A shot of Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs during the game against the LA Clippers on December 18, 2017 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
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San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich kept Kawhi Leonard on a minutes restriction since his mid-December return. Will that change vs. the Sacramento Kings?

When Kawhi Leonard returned to the San Antonio Spurs, it was difficult to think he would receive a significant role, at least to start. Head coach Gregg Popovich placed him in the starting lineup, but on a minutes restriction. 

Through Leonard’s four games, he played totals of 15, 16, 15 and 20 minutes. So, Popovich kept his word. That was over a 12-day span, too, including two missed games. It’s a cautious approach for the Klaw, whose quad injury’s severity wasn’t revealed.

Saturday night will be Leonard’s latest appearance, as the organization listed him as “probable” to play vs. the Sacramento Kings. Expect another minutes restriction, however, even as his total steadily rises.

The 15-16-15 stretch was exceeded by the 20 minutes vs. the Utah Jazz. It was a step in the right direction for the San Diego State product’s role, which should increase by the game.

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Against the Kings, though, look for Leonard to play another 20 minutes, staying in line with Popovich’s use of him in the first three games. It allows the team’s superstar to get comfortable on a hard cap of playing time, before pushing him to the next step — potentially 25-30 minutes. While frustrating for Spurs fans that want him in a bigger role, it’s the cautious approach to full health.

With San Antonio still in the Western Conference’s top four, it can afford to be patient. Especially as over half the season remains. By the middle of January, that may be when the team ramps up its use of Leonard and pushes toward the top of the conference. At least to stay in the top four and keep homecourt advantage for one or more series.

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How long will Leonard play tonight, Dec. 23? Let’s find out at 10:00 p.m. ET.

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