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Tyronn Lue isn’t sure if Paul George will return to Clippers this season

Clippers guard Paul George passes the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game.
Clippers guard Paul George underwent an MRI on his injured elbow Friday, but the team isn’t sure when he might return to the team.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
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Paul George wore a T-shirt bearing Kobe Bryant’s number and image and nothing covering his injured elbow. Kawhi Leonard wore a red trucker hat and a scar on his injured knee. And Norman Powell donned a black T-shirt from his signature label, plus a walking boot protecting the fractured bone in his left foot.

It remained unclear as ever Friday night, as the three building blocks of the Clippers’ championship aspirations looked on from the Crypto.com Arena sideline during a frenetic 105-102 victory against the Lakers, whether any will wear a Clippers jersey again as their injury recoveries proceed on uncertain timelines.

An MRI exam on George’s injured right elbow Friday left the Clippers in the inconvenient middle between not ruling him out for a return this season but also not putting a firm target date for a return to action after missing the last eight weeks, and 30 games, with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. It marked the second time the Clippers have extended George’s regimen of rest.

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“He feels better, he’s making progress, but he’s gonna need more time,” coach Tyronn Lue said before tipoff.

Asked if there was still a chance to see George again this season, Lue said he was “not sure.”

To Lue, the “biggest thing” is that regardless of the MRI result, George feels better. And he has stayed in good condition, continuing to work out during his All-Star break vacation to a Caribbean island. But only seven weeks and 20 games remain in the regular season with the Clippers appearing bound for the play-in tournament.

The Clippers returned to .500 with a 105-102 defeat of the Lakers as LeBron James missed a last-second jumper that could have sent the game to overtime.

Feb. 25, 2022

A torn ulnar collateral ligament is a relatively rare injury for basketball players who, unlike baseball players, generally do not require surgery to fix it, though whether George could need it is still undetermined.

What Powell, George and Leonard watched during the first half and fourth quarter was the blueprint for how the Clippers must continue to compensate for their absences by receiving contributions from everywhere, pushing their first-half lead to 16 by turning steals by Robert Covington and a block on Dwight Howard by Ivica Zubac into baskets.

Covington later deftly tipped a rebound toward Terance Mann as he cut toward the basket, leading to a dunk, part of his team-high 19 points. And Luke Kennard, a three-point contest competitor only six days earlier, was somehow given wide swaths of room to make five of his first seven three-pointers. He finished with 18 points.

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But this night was also a cautionary tale, a reminder of the razor-thin margins deciding victory and defeat, and underscored why Lue — 6-0 against the Lakers as the Clippers’ coach — laughed pregame when asked if he would play all of his cards considering these teams could meet in the postseason.

Even with the Lakers missing 16 of their first 19 three-pointers they never trailed by more than 12 after halftime, and with eight minutes to play in the third quarter, a vicious block by Austin Reaves on Reggie Jackson led to a Lakers basket on the other end that trimmed the Clippers’ lead to just seven.

It was part of a nightmare third quarter in which the Clippers mustered just 13 points in 12 minutes, the kind of scoring drought that has so often pulled a resilient team back to the reality that they are missing some of the league’s most impactful offensive stars.

After the Lakers led by five with 3:53 to play, the Clippers returned to their formula that has kept them 5-1 since the Feb. 10 trade deadline, getting baskets by four different players to lead by one with 39 seconds to play after a 16-foot jumper by Marcus Morris Sr.

“We didn’t play well,” Lue said. “We kept our composure.”

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