Paul George remains on track to make his Clippers debut Thursday against New Orleans, but should the all-NBA forward play as expected, he won’t be joined by two key teammates.
Forward Kawhi Leonard (left knee injury management) and guard Patrick Beverley (sore left calf) will not play, the team announced Thursday afternoon.
The game is the second in as many days for the Clippers (7-4), who viewed the excitement surrounding George’s debut as a welcome reprieve following a 102-93 loss in Houston on Wednesday that left the team critiquing their own mistakes and the officiating.
“We get Paul George back,” Beverley said in Houston, “and that’s our focus right now.”
Said guard Lou Williams: “You’d be fooling yourself to think that [George] doesn’t give you a really good chance to win basketball games.”
Shortly afterward, George posted a photo to his Instagram account with the caption: “The wait is over.. line it up!”
George has not played since April 23. He underwent surgery to repair a partially torn tendon in his right shoulder in May, had a small labrum tear in his left shoulder repaired one month later and was traded to the Clippers on July 5, the same night Leonard committed to the franchise as a free agent.
Even before Thursday’s official announcement that Leonard would sit against the Pelicans, it became clear the superstar duo’s first game together would not come in New Orleans.
Leonard played a season-high 40 minutes, 56 seconds against the Rockets. He has not played on consecutive nights since April 2017. The Clippers have determined Leonard is not healthy enough to do so because of an ongoing tendon injury in his left knee, a determination the NBA has backed.
“We’re good,” Leonard said Wednesday when asked about his workload. “I’m not worried about that.”
Leonard had 26 points and 12 rebounds in the defeat Wednesday, his fifth double-double in nine appearances this season. Coach Doc Rivers has previously said the team is attempting to keep Leonard’s playing time between 30 and 35 minutes per game to keep him as healthy as possible this season.
“He felt good, he kept saying, ‘Keep me in,’” Rivers said Wednesday. “He’s not going to be playing 40 minutes many nights. That’s too many, and that’s on me, as well.”
Though the Clippers’ strategy to protect Leonard’s health hasn’t changed, the language surrounding it has. Leonard was listed as out under the league’s injury/illness criteria for “load management” of a knee during his two previous absences this season. But this week a memo sent to teams by NBA president of league operations Byron Spruell noted that “load management” is not an “appropriate description of an injury under the Injury Reporting Procedures,” according to USA Today, which obtained the memo. That sparked Thursday’s change to the Clippers’ injury report, in which Leonard is listed as out because of “left knee injury management.”
George and Leonard could play together for the first time Saturday when Atlanta visits Staples Center, but even their highly anticipated pairing won’t give the Clippers a complete look at their rotation as starting guard Landry Shamet recovers from a high-ankle sprain he sustained Monday.
Rivers did not offer a timeline for when the second-year shooter could be back, but his tone suggested it will not be soon.
“I know it was not a good injury,” Rivers said.