Clippers star Paul George takes preliminary steps toward practice

Clippers guard Paul George controls the ball during a game against the San Antonio Spurs in December.
Clippers guard Paul George controls the ball during a game against the San Antonio Spurs in December. Will George return before the end of the season?
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Paul George’s injury recovery has progressed to the point that the Clippers star practiced Sunday against coaches at their Playa Vista facility.

If George isn’t able to return to game action before the postseason, that wouldn’t necessarily rule him out for the playoffs, coach Tyronn Lue said Monday.

Asked whether any of the injured Clippers who have not been ruled out for the season — a group that includes George, Kawhi Leonard, Norman Powell and rookie guard Jason Preston — would need to ramp up with regular-season action before being used in the playoffs, Lue said no.


“I can’t say that,” the coach said. “If it were up to me, I would say yes because that is pretty — to hit the playoffs going at 100, from zero to 100, that is pretty tough.

“But if the medical guys say they are cleared and they are able to do that, that is totally up to them.”

Lue was asked if he is keeping the door open for returns by his injured contributors?

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“Hell yeah I keep it open,” Lue said.

George has not played since Dec. 22, missing the last 41 games because of a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Leonard has not played since Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals last season because of a torn knee ligament. Powell played three games with the Clippers after being acquired in a trade with Portland before injuring his left foot. Powell’s walking boot was removed last week but he is not yet cleared for “anything as far as contact,” Lue said.

In recent weeks, George began shooting with his off hand, then his right. The latest step of his rehabilitation, Lue said, is four-on-four games against coaches that expose George to “minimal contact” as a way to increase his conditioning and gauge how the elbow responds after months of rest.

“Now we are going to try to build him up when we can, just doing it with the coaches and making sure it is minimal contact and just kind of see how he progresses each day,” Lue said. “He is getting better so that is good to see.”

But as Lue acknowledged, throwing a player even of the caliber of George, Leonard or Powell directly into postseason play would be asking a great deal — which is why how far the Clippers (36-37) last in the playoffs figures to still be determined more so by the players who have been available all season.


With the Clippers still virtually guaranteed to finish eighth in the Western Conference — one site that tracks playoff probabilities pegged the Clippers as having a 98% chance to stay there — and three weeks still to play in the season, Lue’s message to players before practice Monday was to not develop bad habits even with their play-in tournament fate largely sealed.

The pre-practice speech followed Friday’s loss in a rout at Utah during which the Clippers struggled in two areas Lue has prioritized: one-on-one defense to keep opponents out of the paint and driving into the paint while keeping the ball moving to curb the offense’s stagnation.

Tyronn Lue made sure his starters knew he was disgusted with their first-half play, but it did little to spur the Clippers in a 121-92 loss to the Jazz.

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“Losing Kawhi, losing PG, getting Norm and losing him in three games, so the job that our veteran guys have done all season long, along with our young guys developing and getting better, like we don’t want to just throw it away,” Lue said. “We want to continue to build good habits, continue playing the right way going into the play-in, to the playoffs. Don’t throw it away these last nine games because whether we win or not, that builds the right things that we’re doing on both sides of the basketball. They agreed.”

The 29-point loss to Utah also followed a stretch of travel that included seven games in 11 days. Lue called the three-day break before facing Denver on Tuesday badly needed.

“The last two weeks have been really, really tough,” forward Nicolas Batum said. “You can watch the last game in Utah, we have nothing left. I think, it’s not like we didn’t care. We tried in Utah. We really tried, but we have nothing. … Those two, three days have been good for us. Have a good practice today and gotta get back to it tomorrow.”




When: 7 p.m. PDT, Tuesday

On the air: TV: Bally Sports SoCal, TNT; Radio: 570, 1330

Update: Play-in preview? Denver (42-30) is in seventh place after being jumped by red-hot Minnesota for sixth. The Nuggets have lost two straight. Since the All-Star break, they have the NBA’s 10th-best net rating while the Clippers rank 22nd.