Without Paul George, Clippers brace for Thunder
The Los Angeles Clippers will be without All-Star forward Paul George when they wrap up their two-game set against the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday.
George will likely miss the rest of the regular season after leaving Tuesday's 101-100 loss to the Thunder late in the fourth quarter with an apparent right leg injury.
George was diagnosed with a sprained right knee and will be re-evaluated in two to three weeks.
"We obviously miss our teammate, (but) we still got a good coach, good team," Clippers forward Nicolas Batum said. "Of course, PG is a huge key for us. If we have to go through some time without him, we just have to go out there and win some games."
The Clippers (38-35) are fifth in the Western Conference with nine games remaining. The team's depth will certainly be tested without George, who is averaging 23.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
With George sidelined, Los Angeles will need to rely heavily on role players such as Eric Gordon, Robert Covington and Bones Hyland to fill the void.
"Next man up," Clippers star Kawhi Leonard said. "We'll see. Like I said, we've got a group of guys that still want to win and like to play basketball. So we'll see what happens."
Los Angeles had won five of six games before losing to the Thunder on Tuesday. George scored 18 points in the loss, which ended when Leonard was unable to get a shot off in the final seconds.
Oklahoma City (36-36) has won all three meetings against the Clippers this season and held the seventh seed in the Western Conference entering play Wednesday.
The Thunder have been exercising caution with point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who sat out the second game of two back-to-backs earlier this month while recovering from an abdominal strain. Coach Mark Daigneault said the All-Star could be available on Thursday.
"Based on how we've managed it and how he's managed it, he's responded well, especially right after games, which is most important for back-to-backs," Daigneault said. "We're open-minded to it, but we haven't played one yet."
Gilgeous-Alexander scored 31 points against his former team on Tuesday, while forward Jalen Williams added 20.
Oklahoma City used a balanced attack in Tuesday's victory with 10 players getting points on the board. Guard Isaiah Joe scored 12 and is averaging 10.1 points in 11 games this month.
Daigneault also turned to center Olivier Sarr, who had four points and six rebounds in a season-high 19 minutes. The second-year pro played over Dario Saric and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and provided valuable minutes against Clippers center Ivica Zubac.
Oklahoma City has won five of six and appears well-positioned to claim a playoff spot, but Daigneault also has his team's long-term goals in mind.
"We're focused on building the best team we can build, and the best team we can build is a sustainable one," Daigneault said. "It's not just about a road trip, or a game or one season. Everything we're doing is in the perspective of that."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 23, 2023