Kawhi Leonard to start playing back-to-backs after missing 76ers loss

Kawhi Leonard looks ready to start playing back-to-back matches for the Raptors, according to coach Nick Nurse.

As has been the Raptors’ policy this season, Leonard was rested for the second game of a double-header as they lost 126-101 at the 76ers on Saturday, after starring by dropping 37 points in Friday’s win over the Cavaliers.

Leonard, acquired from the Spurs in an offseason trade, played just nine games last season due to a nagging quadriceps injury and has been managed cautiously, but is now in consideration for the five back-to-backs the Raptors (25-10) have left on their schedule, the next being on January 5 and 6.

The two-time Defensive Player of the Year has surpassed expectations after his move, averaging 26.8 points and 8.4 rebounds so far in 2018-19.

“I think we are there,” Nurse told reporters of Leonard’s availability for back-to-backs after the 76ers game.

“I think, after we get here to the new year, we’ll be there. No promises, but I think we’re there.”

The Raptors still have the NBA’s best record despite the disappointing loss to the 76ers, where injured duo Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas were also absent.

A short-handed Raptors side struggled to contain Joel Embiid, who had 27 points and 11 rebounds.

“It was a little too much for us,” Nurse said after the game. “We just didn’t have enough.

“I think they probably made a point obviously for him and Ben Simmons to spend time at the front of the rim with our lack of size.

“He [Embiid] did a good job. I thought he got down there and he really got physical, too. I mean, he was throwing our guys around pretty good there early.

“I think he was making a point that you little guys can try to guard me if you want, but it’s going to be physical down there. He was great.”

Despite having the best record in the league, the Raptors have not been selected as one of the 10 sides to play in the NBA’s prestigious Christmas Day fixtures.

“I think it’s a marquee day to play,” Nurse added. “I think our team would’ve liked to play.”