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Will The Clippers Be Able To Keep Pace Out West Without Paul George?

Los Angeles Clippers Paul George Sustained and Knee Injury

It’s difficult for any team to build any chemistry, camaraderie, or rhythm when players are constantly in and out of the lineup. That’s the cards head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers Ty Lue has been dealt in this tumultuous 2022-23 season. The inability to stay consistent with rotations and lineups because of health or rest for load management has played a factor for some of the different losing streaks this team has had during the season. 

A Crushing Blow

Los Angeles Clippers Paul George Sustained and Knee Injury

Then more difficult news came with the injury to All-Star Paul George vs the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 21st when he landed awkwardly trying to secure a defensive rebound with 4:38 left in the 4th quarter. Just a quarter before in the 3rd, George had a spectacular 360 windmill dunk that got the home crowd going. After the game he had to be transported on a cart to his vehicle and things did not look good. To make matters worse his team lost a close game (101-100) that they needed to help them keep pace in the Western Conference standing. 

Good news did come the next day. Paul George was diagnosed with just a sprained knee that is expected to keep him out the remainder of the regular season. This likely avoids a devastating injury. He will be re-evaluated in 2-3 weeks.

NBA Analyst for ESPN Stephen A. Smith said after the George injury, “The season is over with out Paul George,” on First Take the following day after the injury.   

Can the Clippers keep pace in the West without their All-Star in George with five games left in the regular season and prove Stephen A. wrong? He’s currently averaging 23.8/ppg on 46% from the field in 56 games.

Next Man Up

They will lean heavily on superstar Kawhi Leonard to keep this team believing. Leonard, a two-time champion and Finals MVP is averaging 23.6/ppg in 47 games this season. “Next man up,” Leonard said on Tuesday night after the loss to OKC when asked about George’s injury. “We’ll see. We got a group of guys that still want to win, that like to play basketball, so we’ll see what happens.”

Before the Clippers took the floor for the first time without George, Head coach Ty Lue spoke about George’s status:

“He’s a little disappointed, as expected,” Lue said. “But I think we got the best case scenario as far as what we thought it could be. And so, being reevaluated in two, three weeks is something that we are looking forward to.” 

When George and Leonard both play this team is 24-14 and they are 18-21 when one or both sit out. This is still a solid and well rounded team without those two on the floor. In their first game without George and Leonard (rest) since the injury to George, the Clippers took on the Memphis Grizzlies on their home court. Although Memphis has the best home record (33-6) in the league, the Clippers got a huge win on the road (141-132), snapping Memphis’ 12-game home win streak. That just shows you the balance and depth on the team NBA experts were talking about, especially after the moves made at trade deadline. 

Playoff Vets All Around

They have veterans led by a future first ballot Hall Of Famer Russell Westbrook, who has brought the energy and effort to this team on a consistent basis. He was the catalyst for the huge win over Memphis with 36 points (5-5 3-pt) and 10 assists. 

Other vets like Eric Gordon, Robert Covington, (went 7-7 from 3-pt vs Memphis) Norman Powell, Mason Plumlee, and Nicolas Batum all have postseason experience and will play contributions come playoff time. They know what it takes to help this Clippers team get to the finish line without George. 

The youth and energy from Terrance Mann and Bones Hyland has been excellent since the trade. Both feed off one another and have brought the speed and pace this team has needed. Big man Ivica Zubac has been consistent all year, averaging a double-double in 10.5 PPG & 9.9 RPG. Zubac will be counted on to be that force in the middle.  

Playoffs or “Play-In?”

With five games remaining, they currently sit 5th in the Western Conference (41-36) with a chance to jump up to the fourth spot just a half game behind Phoenix. According to coach Ty Lue, “they just want to finish in the top six,” he said earlier in the season. They should finish in the top six. With Leonard getting back to 100% after partially tearing his ACL in the playoffs two years ago, they will have a chance every night. 

The NBA “Play-In” tournament begins April 11 should the Clippers fall to seeds 7-10. 

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