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Raptors teammates happy to share the load with Leonard

Raptors teammates happy to share the load with Leonard
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Miles played for Indiana in 2014-15, a season in which Pacers all-star forward Paul George managed just six April appearances after suffering a gruesome right leg injury the previous August — during a scrimmage with the United States national team. George suffered compound fractures to his right tibia and fibula.

Raptor Kawhi Leonard is among the NBA’s top 10 scorers, one season after missing all but nine games with a leg injury.  (Tim Bradbury / GETTY IMAGES file photo)

Miles saw how much work George put in to get back to the dominant player he was – now with the Oklahoma City Thunder, George is among the NBA’s top 10 scorers — and that process reminds him of what Raptors teammate Kawhi Leonard is going through now.

Leonard played just nine games with the San Antonio Spurs last season because of a right quad injury. The work it took to get from there to here — Leonard is averaging 27.6 points a game, fifth-best in the league — puts the Raptors’ “load management” regimen for their star forward in perspective.

Leonard didn’t practise with the team on Monday — a “scheduled maintenance checkup,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse — and eight of the 12 games he’s missed this season have been attributed to the need for rest.

“It was an ideal time with two days in between, this time of year,” Nurse said Monday. “He’ll be back here (Tuesday).”

Leonard sat out back-to-back games in November because of a sore left ankle, and again on consecutive nights in December because of a bruised right hip. It wasn’t until last week — home dates against the Phoenix Suns on Thursday and Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday — that he had missed consecutive games when healthy.

Most of the enforced time off has coincided with the Raptors’ nine back-to-backs to date. He has yet to play on consecutive days this season, usually sitting out the second. That points to another break for Leonard — whose longest stretch of games played this season is nine — when the Raptors visit the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, after hosting the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night.

The club has just two back-to-backs remaining after this week’s Kings-Pacers double: March 10 and 11 (road dates with the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers); March 17 and 18 (in Detroit, then home to the New York Knicks).

In the midst of a gruelling NBA season, one or two games off might not be enough to deal with any physical problems, Miles said. Mentally, though, it can pay significant dividends.

“You think about a guy like Kawhi who, (in) every facet of the game, has so much on his mind — what he’s playing through and the double teams, and guarding the best guy, coming down the stretch and trying to make plans for everybody,” said Miles. “I think that helps him a lot.”

The logic doesn’t only apply to Leonard, added Raptor Danny Green.

“Wherever you can get a day off, it’s big,” said Green, who was also Leonard’s teammate in San Antonio before a blockbuster off-season trade. “Put money in the bank, especially for the future … We’re playing for April, May and June. We’re not playing for right now.”

The 31-year-old Green, who has missed just two games this season, couldn’t help but slip in a few good-natured jabs at his longtime teammate, four years his junior.

“He’s getting older,” Green joked. “He’s getting old so, you know, you got to take a couple days here and there.”
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