When the Clippers begin their longest trip in seven seasons Wednesday, there is hope that a boost of offense will be waiting for them in Denver.
It just won’t be Paul George.
The All-Star-caliber wing, who is averaging 24.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.5 assists this season, hasn’t played since Dec. 22 because of a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, an injury that the team said at the time would require three to four weeks of rest before the next steps could be determined. As the three-week-mark arrived Tuesday a person with knowledge of George’s recovery said that the team is extending the amount of time George will rest beyond the four-week timeline, to gauge how his elbow responds.
Though keeping George sidelined out of caution isn’t unexpected — in late December, some insiders considered it unlikely to see George playing in January because a best-case scenario for his recovery would still require a ramp-up process for his conditioning — Tuesday’s update offered no timeline for another evaluation.
Unlike in baseball, where the injury and its attendant surgery are common occurrences, a torn ulnar collateral ligament has not led to surgery for the handful of NBA players who have suffered the injury, according to InStreetClothes, a site that tracks NBA injuries.
George and injured teammate Kawhi Leonard attended the Rams’ NFL playoff victory Monday at SoFi Stadium, according to video posted on social media. George has been “restless” at home and wants to be around the Clippers, Lue said, but the coach said he has been prevented from doing so recently because of health and safety protocols. A team official later said that George had been kept away because a close contact had tested positive for COVID-19.
The backdrop to George’s continued absence from the lineup is that the Clippers are beginning a grueling stretch of their schedule, an eight-game, 13-day trip through Jan. 31 that is their longest since a nine-game trip in 2005, according to data compiled by the team. The franchise played 11 consecutive road games in 2011, but the trip was divided by the All-Star break.
The Clippers are nearly three points per 100 possessions worse on the road than at home and George’s absence hasn’t helped. Yet the void left by his injury has meant opportunity for others, and the primary beneficiary has been forward Amir Coffey. His seven assists Monday tied his season high. A career 39% three-point shooter, Coffey has shot 43% since George’s rest began and is committing a minuscule 0.5 turnovers in 29 minutes per game.
In addition to Coffey’s help on the offensive end, coach Tyronn Lue said on Monday that he is hopeful Luke Kennard will be back Wednesday against the Nuggets. Kennard had made 48% of his three-pointers in December before entering the league’s health and safety protocols and missing the next eight games. While Kennard was out, the Clippers made only 34% of their three-pointers.
Kennard and forward Justise Winslow exited protocols in time for Monday’s 139-133 victory over Indiana but neither played as they worked back into shape. They were the last two Clippers in health and safety protocols, but with both back, league rules permit point guard Xavier Moon and forward Wenyen Gabriel, each signed to 10-day contracts under a hardship exemption that allows teams to sign as many temporary replacements as players in protocols, to remain with the team until their contracts expire.
The Clippers (22-23) are healthiest at center, with starter Ivica Zubac and reserves Isaiah Hartenstein and Serge Ibaka available. It has led Lue to return to a substitution pattern first deployed earlier this season, three centers playing before halftime and “whichever two plays the best in the first half will play in the second half.” Against Indiana, Zubac and Hartenstein were allotted second-half minutes.
When: 7 p.m. PST, Wednesday
On the air: TV: Bally Sports SoCal, ESPN; Radio: 570, 1220
Update: The Nuggets are 2-1 since losing a 25-point lead in a loss to the Clippers on Jan. 11. In that game Denver was held to fewer than 20 points in a quarter twice; the Nuggets have done that just once in their 12 quarters since.