Clippers' Leonard to team: 'dial in deeper' without George
By BETH HARRIS
LOS ANGELES (AP) That sound heard this week was the Los Angeles Clippers breathing a sigh of relief that Paul George's knee injury wasn't as devastating as it first appeared.
The All-Star guard suffered a sprained right knee after going down hard in the closing minutes of a one-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.
An MRI showed no major structural damage, and depending upon his condition when he's reevaluated in two to three weeks, George could be back in time for the first round of the playoffs that begin April 15.
“We got the best-case scenario as far as what we thought it could be,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “His spirits are down, but that's to be expected when it's late in the season and when you want to help your team.”
In the meantime, plenty of minutes are available for the taking. Eric Gordon started in George's place in a 127-105 win over the Thunder on Thursday, and he'll keep that spot while George is out. Reserve Bones Hyland led the bench with 16 points in his first action since March 3.
“Nobody's head was down,” All-Star Kawhi Leonard said. “One man can't win these basketball games. We're going to have to come in with a great effort.”
Leonard hit his first seven shots and finished with 32 points on 15 shots against the Thunder.
“This is what we need from him every night,” Lue said of Leonard.
Russell Westbrook is averaging 14.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 7.3 assists through 13 games since leaving the Lakers last month.
“He brings energy and pace to the team and plays both ends of the floor,” Leonard said. “He's been doing a good job.”
The Clippers, who host New Orleans on Saturday, are currently fifth in the Western Conference with a 39-35 record with eight games remaining in the regular season.
“Losing PG is tough in itself, but we just got to rally together,” Westbrook said. “I got to be more aggressive and find ways to be effective on both ends.”
It's not the first time the Clippers have been without one of their two superstars.
Leonard tore his right ACL in the second round against Utah in 2021. The Clippers still advanced to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history before losing in six games. He missed all last season rehabilitating after surgery.
George carried the load, but not without absences. He missed three months because of a torn ligament in his elbow and he sat out the team's loss in the second play-in game after testing positive for COVID-19.
“We got to keep sharing the ball and just dial in even deeper and come into these games more focused because we're missing a superstar,” Leonard said.
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Updated March 24, 2023