David Chao, MD: Which Star Returns First in NBA Western Conference Finals?

As the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns begin the series for the right to play in the NBA Finals, both teams will be missing a star player. Both Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul will miss game 1 but who will return first?

Leonard has been out with a reported ACL injury  and Chris Paul is out due to COVID protocols. The respective length of absence for each star has not been determined.
Based on my medical analysis, count on Paul returning before Leonard does. Make your wagering decisions for the games and series accordingly. The lines will move with the news on either of these players.

The Suns guard will miss Game 1 but should be back shortly thereafter. There are no details of why he is in the COVID protocol last Wednesday but he is reportedly vaccinated. By timing, Paul should return later this week and will be available for a majority of the Suns vs Clippers series.

Leonard on the other hand is lucky to not be ruled out for the season. ACL injuries are typically season-ending but there may be evidence that the “Klaw” got lucky. The hope is for a bone bruise and partial ACL tear (low grade sprain)  as opposed to the more common complete tear.

He injured the knee late in Game 4 of the semifinals and stayed in for about a minute before leaving for the series. Leonard has been ruled out for Game 1 of the Suns series  and his absence is likely to extend deeper into this series.

By video, the injury is consistent with a bone bruise and ACL sprain. Kawhi was seen in the tunnel without a brace or even sleeve/wrap on his knee and that would not be the case if it were a complete ACL tear. This gives some hope for return but that might not be until later this series or even the NBA Finals. A good scenario would be a return in two weeks meaning at least another week to go for Kawhi.

Both Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard are out for today’s Game 1 of the conference finals but count on Paul to return first.

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Written by Dr. David Chao

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

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