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Report: San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard could return this week

Per ESPN, Leonard could return as early as Thursday against the Pelicans after missing most of the season with a quadriceps injury

Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard could return as early as Thursday’s game with the Pelicans after missing most of the season with a persistent quadriceps injury, ESPN reported on Saturday.

Leonard, a top three finisher in the past two Kia MVP voting and cornerstone of the Spurs’ post-Tim Duncan era, has played in just nine of their 63 games this season while dealing with quadriceps tendinopathy in his right leg.

The injury followed a sprained ankle that forced Leonard to miss all but the first game of the Spurs’ 4-0 loss to the Warriors in last season’s Western Conference finals.

Leonard’s return would bring an end to a seemingly endless saga, and one highly unusual for the usually drama-free Spurs.

Leonard, the 2014 Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, was first revealed to be injured in training camp. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would later say that he’d never encountered an injury like Leonard’s during a career stretching back to the early 1970s.

Leonard finally made his season debut on Dec. 12, scoring 13 points in 15 minutes as the Spurs lost to the Mavericks. He saw limited action in eight of the next 16 games, averaging 16.2 points in 23.3 minutes, before returning to the sideline in early January.

The Spurs have withered in his absence, dropping 13 of 20 games following Saturday’s 104-94 loss to the Thunder — their worst stretch since 1996-97, the season before Duncan’s arrival started a run of dominance featuring five championships and 20 straight playoff appearances.

That streak is in danger as the Spurs sit just 1 game out of the eighth and final playoff berth in the West.

More unusual still were the stream of stories surrounding Leonard’s rehabilitation, with ESPN reporting that his relationship with the Spurs had “chilled” as the process wore on and Popovich saying last month that he’d be “surprised” if Leonard returned this season.

But Leonard disputed those reports last week, asserting that he said he and the Spurs had always been on the same page during his rehab and that he “for sure” hoped to finish his career in San Antonio.

And now comes news of his imminent return, which the Spurs hope will resurrect their hopes of challenging the Rockets and defending champion Warriors for league supremacy.