Scouts take: How Paul George’s COVID-19 case impacts play-in game

Clippers guard Paul George dribbles the ball
Clippers guard Paul George has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols and won’t play in Friday’s game against New Orleans with a playoff berth on the line.
(Andy Clayton-King / Associated Press)

Clippers star Paul George has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols and will miss Friday’s game against New Orleans to decide the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.

George hadn’t felt well Thursday and the team learned he had entered the NBA’s COVID-related protocols Friday morning before a shoot-around at the team’s Playa Vista practice facility, president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank told reporters.

George scored a game-high 34 points in the Clippers’ loss Tuesday to Minnesota in the first game of the play-in tournament, a result that left the Clippers needing to beat New Orleans at Arena to advance to a first-round series against top-seeded Phoenix.


One NBA scout, who spoke on condition of anonymity since he’s not authorized to speak publicly, broke down what George’s absence will mean.
“When you have superstars the ball sticks a little bit. [Teammates] get caught watching them do their thing whereas without Paul the ball is really moving. Reggie [Jackson] is going. Isaiah [Hartenstein] is going. With Paul it’s a lot of quick [isolations] and I noticed that against Minnesota. … I think the ball movement will improve tonight. … Brandon Ingram is a handful, the Pelicans have two guys who can get points in Ingram and C.J. McCollum, so I don’t know what [Clippers coach] Ty Lue will do. Does he let one guy get busy and try to take the other one out? That will be the game.

“… It’s at home, so role players will play better at home. … New Orleans is coming along, they looked really good” in their play-in win against San Antonio. “I think it’s just C.J. getting comfortable and Ingram getting healthy. … [Pelicans coach] Willie Green wants to play fast. He puts them in situations where they operate best. He runs only two or three plays for Ingram and puts him in his [isolation] situations and McCollum has the freedom to do whatever he wants. … They’re just hard playing, and that’s kind of Willie’s personality but they’ve always been that, they just didn’t have the talent early on in the year to sustain it. … Jose Alvarado, when he comes in, gives them energy.”

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It’s still not known whether the Clippers will be without reserve guard Luke Kennard, whose 44.9% three-point accuracy led the NBA. He missed the loss in Minnesota because of a sore right hamstring and remains listed as questionable .

The development puts the Clippers in a familiar position: playing short-handed. The Clippers have had months of preparation for such a moment.

“This has been our season,” Frank told reporters. “This has been our path.”

Despite playing the entire season without the injured Kawhi Leonard, and injuries sidelining George for all but 32 games and new addition Norman Powell for seven weeks, the Clippers finished the regular season 42-40 for the West’s eighth-best record under coach Tyronn Lue.

“I don’t think Ty has to do any convincing to the group that we have enough to win because they’ve shown it,” Frank said. “This group has been very, very resilient. They support each other and they play for each other.”


After Tuesday’s play-in loss at Minnesota, Powell said he would need to be more aggressive on offense Friday, a sentiment that takes on even more importance with George’s absence. Powell made his first four shots before finishing five for nine against the Timberwolves.