The Los Angeles Clippers treat their two All-Stars, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, with kid gloves when it comes to playing them in both ends of a back-to-back in order to keep them healthy for the postseason. The Clippers lost at home Tuesday night to the 76ers and already have ruled George out for tonight's game at Utah. Leonard hasn't been ruled out as of this writing but has not played the second game of a B2B all year, so it seems all but a formality that he'll sit. The Jazz, meanwhile, will welcome back leading scorer Lauri Markkanen and are up to -6.5 at Caesars Sportsbook.
George had missed five straight games with right hamstring soreness before returning Tuesday on a minutes restriction. He logged 29 minutes in the 120-110 defeat to Philly, finishing with 13 points, eight rebounds, four assists and a steal. Leonard was by far the Clippers' best player with 27 points but logged 36 minutes, so it would truly be shocking if he plays in Salt Lake City. Just for a comparison: Leonard played only 18 minutes of a blowout on Jan. 5 in Denver but still got the next night off in Minnesota.
L.A. point guard John Wall remains out for the next few weeks with an abdominal strain. Luke Kennard hasn't played since Jan. 6 due to a calf injury. He did travel with the club but is questionable. Reggie Jackson was limited to 14 minutes Tuesday when his back tightened up and is unlikely to play tonight.
Markkanen is having a breakout season and deserves to be a first-time All-Star. He's averaging 24.6 points per game on 52% shooting and 8.6 rebounds per game in his first season with Utah. He came over from Cleveland in the Donovan Mitchell trade. Markkanen had missed the past two games with a hip injury and Utah was 1-1 in that stretch.
The Finnish forward is set at over/under 25.5 points tonight and is averaging 22.0 PPG in three games this season vs. the Clippers – not having terrific defenders George and Leonard on the floor should hugely benefit Markkanen. The Jazz lead the season series 2-1 and have won 10 straight at home vs. LA.
Jazz big man Walker Kessler is a +7500 long shot to win NBA Rookie of the Year but is fresh off a historic game vs. Minnesota on Monday. Kessler had 20 points, 21 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. The boards and assists were career-highs and the points tied his best. The former Auburn star became the first Jazz player to ever have a 20-point/20-rebound game as a rookie. He was the first NBA rookie to reach these numbers since 2014 when Gorgui Dieng did so with Minnesota.
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