Four months after they took the stage for their introductory news conference, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George could play alongside each other for the first time as Clippers this week upon George’s expected debut and, in the process, provide the first look at how the superstar offseason additions will mesh.
George will make his season debut either in Houston on Wednesday or in New Orleans the following day, a person with knowledge of the plans confirmed. He has missed 10 games while recovering from offseason shoulder surgeries. A decision on which day was not finalized but the team officially listed George as “questionable” to play against the Rockets, and the person added his debut was “trending” toward Thursday’s matchup with the Pelicans.
The only Clippers contributor definitively ruled out for Wednesday is starting shooting guard Landry Shamet, who injured his left ankle with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter of Monday’sdefeat of Toronto and later left the locker room on crutches. No other update was provided on the severity of his injury.
Conspicuously absent from the team’s injury report, ahead of games on back-to-back nights, however, was Leonard, who has yet to play on consecutive nights because of load management. Both of Leonard’s absences have come during the first game when the Clippers have played back to back.
Leonard is recovering from what the NBA has called an ongoing injury to the patellar tendon of his left knee. The Clippers have told the league office that Leonard is not yet healthy enough to play both nights of back-to-back games and the NBA’s medical officers have agreed with that determination, clearing the way for Leonard to sit.
“My health is No. 1 and that’s what’s gonna make us be a better team, make me be healthy,” Leonard said Monday. “We’ll just see how things go.”
Though it has been expected for days that George would debut this week, he had his first full practice with teammates Saturday. The 6-foot-9 forward had no limitations during that workout, in which he scrimmaged with a team of reserves against Leonard’s starters. Afterward, he indicated he did not intend to rush back.
“From a health standpoint, I feel great,” George said. “But I think just rhythm, especially where these guys are at right now in their season, they’re flowing right now. So I just want to come in with an easy transition.
“I’m gonna play hard, make mistakes. It’s part of the game, but I plan on learning from that point on to where late in the season, I’m where I want to be.”
Teammates said they saw “flashes” of the player who finished in the top three for last season’s most-valuable-player voting.
“His ability to get steals, whether it’s on-ball defense, getting his hands in there, or whether it’s off-ball defense being in the passing lanes and taking off for transition down getting a dunk,” said forward Patrick Patterson, who played with George the last two seasons in Oklahoma City. “Also in the half court him just one-on-one in the post making his moves, leading to his nice, smooth jump shot, nothing but net.”
George’s return has been highly anticipated since he was acquired in a trade with Oklahoma City on July 5, the same night Leonard agreed to sign with the Clippers as a free agent. George is coming off a season in which he set or matched career-high averages of 28 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game.
In May, he underwent surgery to repair a partially torn tendon in his right shoulder. In June, a partial tear of his left labrum was repaired.
“It will take him some time. As soon as he gets back he’s not going to be 12 for 20 from the field, 30-point game, five steals,” Patterson said. “He’s not going to have that his first night out — I would love for that to happen, I assume he would, too, but logically speaking I don’t think it’s going to happen the first night, so it’s going to take him some time to get his groove back and his timing back, everything that involves P being P back. But we’ve seen flashes of it in workouts.”
The 66 rebounds by the Clippers on Monday were the franchise’s most since Michael Olowokandi helped the Clippers grab 66 on Dec. 29, 2001, in an overtime loss to the Celtics. The last time the Clippers had 66 or more rebounds in a regulation game was Feb. 24, 1991.
The performance Monday helped the Clippers jump overnight from 14th in rebounding average to fourth in the league, and they now own the league’s third-highest rebounding percentage (52.7%), behind San Antonio and league-leading Philadelphia.
“I definitely thought our size defensively was a major factor,” Rivers said following the victory against Toronto. “[The Raptors] are usually the longest team and tonight they felt a team that was longer.”
When: 4:30 p.m. PST Wednesday
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket/ESPN; Radio: 570
Update: Houston (7-3) has won four consecutive games behind James Harden’s historic start. His 373 points through his first 10 games are the most in the NBA since Rick Barry scored 381 in 1966-67, according to Basketball Reference. Only Wilt Chamberlain has more points through 10 games in league history with 496 in 1961-62 and 529 in 1962-63. Defensively, Houston’s average of 109 points allowed per 100 possessions ranks 21st in the league. The Clippers (7-3) have won two in a row and four of their last five.