Paul George injury update: He’s nearing full speed, return possible

Clippers star Paul George shakes hands with a fan before practicing at Arena.
Clippers star Paul George shakes hands with a fan before practicing at Arena ahead of a game against the Philadelphia 76ers last week.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

After three months and 43 games out of the Clippers’ lineup, Paul George is on the verge of a return.

Sidelined since Dec. 22 after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right, shooting elbow, George is listed as questionable to play Tuesday at Arena against the Utah Jazz, an upgrade to his condition that has been building for more than two weeks as the All-Star wing has begun taking part in more strenuous group workouts to improve his conditioning. He participated in practice Thursday, a five-on-five workout Sunday without any limitations and then did so again Monday.

George’s return raises the ceiling on the Clippers’ postseason potential, and the team has not ruled out either guard Norman Powell or wing Kawhi Leonard yet, though Powell, who fractured a bone in a toe, isn’t able to do more than shoot on the court, Lue said.


A virtual lock to finish with the Western Conference’s eighth-best record, the team is likely bound to play the seventh-seeded team in the play-in tournament, with the winner earning the West’s seventh seed and a matchup against the No. 2 seed in the first round of the playoffs. The loser would face the winner of the ninth- and 10th-seeded teams for theeighth seed and a matchup against Phoenix, the West’s top team.

With seven games remaining in the regular season, George’s presence in the lineup again would provide more short-term benefits, as well, coach Tyronn Lue said Monday. The Clippers (36-39) have lost five consecutive games and Lue acknowledged George’s return would provide an emotional lift.

George’s return would certainly pose a challenge of how to best, and quickly, reintegrate the former leading scorer into a lineup that hasn’t played with such a high-usage star since late December while asking those who have picked up the slack to adjust back to slightly smaller roles.

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Then again, an infusion of scoring is needed, no matter how the Clippers get it. They rank 25th in offensive rating, scoring 109.2 points per 100 possessions, since George began his program of rest to treat the injured elbow.

“It would be huge and like I always say hope is stronger than fear, so to have the hope that he could come back would be great for our team,” Lue said. “Especially the job our team has done all season long of just playing out of position, doing more than they would normally do on a night-to-night basis. But this team has done it, so right now we are dragging a little bit and to get a guy like PG back would definitely help us out.”

Beginning Tuesday, Lue said the Clippers will increase the minutes played by veterans Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris Sr. and Nicolas Batum, after all three had played under capped workloads in recent weeks to keep them fresh ahead of the postseason.


“Now it is time to ramp them back up where guys should be feeling pretty good, their bodies are intact and we can go from there,” Lue said.

After hosting Utah, the Clippers travel to Chicago for a game Thursday and to Milwaukee on Friday, their last trip of the regular season.

In addition to George, there was another familiar but new face on the court Monday. Point guard Xavier Moon practiced after signing a two-way contract over the weekend. Moon joined the team in late December and stayed for one month on a series of 10-day contracts as the roster was whittled away by COVID-related absences. Moon played well with the Clippers’ G League affiliate for the last two months and has “a chance” to play minutes during the regular-season stretch run, Lue said, though as a two-way player won’t be eligible to take part in the postseason.

Amir Coffey is eligible. The third-year wing can participate in the postseason since the team converted his two-way contract to a standard NBA deal.

Coffey “didn’t know” for certain the team would convert his contract, Lue said, “but I knew for a while. I knew for a long stretch. He definitely deserves it, he definitely earned it, and the timing is right. I’m just happy for him.”

Twitter take

Before beginning Monday’s practice, Lue also took a jab at Daryl Morey, Philadelphia’s president of basketball operations. Before the Clippers’ Friday loss to Philadelphia, Lue had described the importance of defending 76ers stars James Harden and Joel Embiid without fouling because of how often they attempt free throws, saying that “if you take away their free throws, neither one of those guys would be in the top 10 in scoring, so it just tells you how much they’re getting to the free-throw line.”


In a tweet, Morey responded Saturday that the Clippers’ offense would rank last without free throws. Lue felt Morey had taken his comments out of context, then referenced Morey’s Twitter history when, in 2019, a tweet he sent in support of protestors in Hong Kong strongly damaged the NBA’s business relationship with China.

“It was said meaning that if you continue to foul those guys, they can score 50,” Lue said Monday. “We want them to make field goals and not free throws because they’re crafty at getting to the line.

“But in response to Daryl Morey, like, should he really be tweeting anything right now? Last time he tweeted, he cost the NBA a billion dollars. So, I don’t think he should be doing too much tweeting. Just worry about his own team.”



When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

On the air: TV: TNT; Radio: 570, 1220

Update: Utah (45-30) has lost four in a row and Tuesday’s game marks the finale of its six-game road trip. Standout center Rudy Gobert (lower leg contusion) and Bojan Bogdanovic (left calf strain) are both questionable to play.