The landscape of the 2021 NBA playoffs was altered Wednesday with news that the two best players left in the Western Conference could miss a significant period of time. Both Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul are reportedly out for their next game, and possibly much longer.

Leonard is expected to miss Game 5 of the second-round series between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz with a knee injury, ESPN reports. According to The Athletic, Chris Paul is out indefinitely after entering the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

Leonard’s injury presents a more immediate problem for the Clippers, who are tied 2-2 in their series with the Clippers heading into Wednesday’s Game 5. It’s unknown when the two-time NBA Finals MVP might return, though he could miss the rest of the series.

The injury occurred late in Game 4 with the Clippers well on their way to tying the series. Leonard hurt his knee on a drive toward the basket, though he downplayed the ailment in the postgame press conference.

The Jazz won the first two games of the series at home. The Clippers matched Utah when the series shifted to Los Angeles, winning Game 3 and Game 4 by a combined 40 points. Leonard totaled 65 points on 43 shot attempts in the two victories. 

It’s hard to imagine Los Angeles advancing to the Western Conference Finals if Leonard doesn’t face Utah again. The superstar spearheaded the Clippers’ first-round comeback against the Dallas Mavericks, averaging 32.1 points on 61.8% shooting during the seven-game series.

Phoenix has to hope that Utah and Los Angeles play seven games. The longer the second-round series goes, the more time Paul has to exit the league’s health and safety protocols for the Western Conference Finals.

Paul and the Suns finished their second-round sweep of the Denver Nuggets Sunday. Phoenix will face either the Clippers or Jazz, though no start date for the conference finals has been announced. 

Game 6 is scheduled to be played at Staples Center Friday night. A potential Game 7 would be played Sunday. The conference finals likely won’t start until at least two days after Utah or Los Angeles is eliminated.

If Paul has been vaccinated, he could be allowed to rejoin the team earlier than players who have previously tested positive for COVID-19.

Paul was outstanding against Denver. The veteran point guard averaged 25.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 10.3 assists per game. Paul shot 61.8% from the field.

Paul finished fifth in the 2021 NBA MVP race. Paul was an All-NBA Second-Team selection, while Leonard was voted to the First Team.

Kawhi Leonard LA Clippers Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers of the LA Clippers dribbles the ball during the third quarter against the Denver Nuggets in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Photo: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images