Clippers hope to get good news about Paul George before showdown with Lakers
The most consequential result Friday for the Clippers won’t be the final score of that night’s game against the Lakers.
Earlier in the day, Clippers star wing Paul George will undergo an MRI on his injured right elbow that has sidelined him since tearing the ulnar collateral ligament Dec. 22.
The Clippers have cautioned that the MRI is just one factor in determining whether George can ramp up his on-court activity in preparation for a return. Lawrence Frank, president of basketball operations, said earlier this month the result wouldn’t signify a “eureka moment for what we do.”
Still, a clean result could certainly signal optimism that George’s recovery might gain speed. A TNT report earlier this month indicated George could be ready to play by the first week of March should his test go well. Lue hasn’t confirmed if that would be the case. But with the Clippers eighth in the Western Conference standings, 1½ games ahead of the Lakers and both teams potentially bound for the play-in tournament, the team would welcome back their leading scorer if George feels he is ready to return for the stretch run, with 21 games to play.
The Clippers resume play without their two All-Star forwards yet still have a chance to make the postseason and qualify for the playoffs.
“I give those guys credit, because I’ve been in situations where guys [have] been out for a long time, and you don’t know when they’re coming back, and it can just wear on you,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “But these guys, they just continue to fight every single night. And so they’ve definitely made my job a lot easier.”
Asked how the team might work George, Norman Powell or Kawhi Leonard back into the lineup this season if they are healthy, guard Terance Mann said, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” adding that “I don’t think any of those guys is coming back anytime soon, at least Norm and Kawhi.”
The Lakers certainly won’t feel sorry for the Clippers. Their three-headliner core of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook has been healthy for just one of these rivals’ previous two meetings this season, and Davis will miss Friday’s gameas well. Yet while the Lakers have struggled mightily to find their rhythm amid missing parts, the Clippers have shown flashes of last year’s roster that thrived on long odds by engineering comebacks of 24, 25 and a franchise-record 35 points since George’s injury. Lue credited the segment of his roster that is healthy with approaching a season of jumbled lineups as a challenge rather than a burden.
Marcus Morris Sr. scored 27 points as the Clippers cruised to a 142-111 victory over the Houston Rockets on Thursday at Crypto.com Arena.
They own the NBA’s seventh-best net rating, the difference in points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, since the Feb. 10 trade deadline, a span that includes going 3-1 since guard Powell, acquired Feb. 4 in a trade with Portland, fractured the medial sesamoid bone in his left foot just three games after joining his new team.
“These guys every night have been fighting and competing,” Lue said. “The circumstances that we’ve been put in, we’ve done a good job of just staying afloat, being the eighth seed with 21 games to go and hopefully have a chance to be in that play-in situation and see what we can do.”
Powell’s foot remained in a walking boot at the team’s Thursday practice as he took short-range shots. Lue said the Clippers “need him back” for the pressure Powell’s drives put on defenses at the rim.
“Everybody’s game has grown a lot” while compensating for George’s absence, Mann said. “Especially going into the [all-star] break, everybody was playing pretty well. So having [George] come back, I’m sure he’s gonna be happy that everybody has confidence in their game and what their ability is to do out there on the floor for us. So having him there is just gonna be a plus, for sure.”
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