The blockbuster trade last summer that sent six-time All-Star forward Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Los Angeles Clippers seems to be working out well for both teams.
George will make his first visit to Oklahoma City since the trade when the Clippers visit the Thunder on Sunday evening.
After missing the first three weeks of the season while rehabilitating two offseason shoulder surgeries, George is averaging 24.5 points and 6.0 rebounds in his first 20 games with Los Angeles. The Clippers are 15-5 with George on the floor and 7-4 without.
George scored all the points in a 4-0 run that closed out a 90-88 win against the visiting Thunder on Nov. 18, his third game of the season.
Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan told reporters on Saturday that he hopes George will be welcomed by Oklahoma City fans upon his return, despite George’s request to be traded just two years into his stay with the Thunder, and a year after receiving a four-year contract extension.
“I’d hope he’d be received well,” Donovan said. “He was first-class, a total pro, a great guy to be around. I felt like, while he was here, he had both feet in the circle. He did everything he could to help the team.”
As part of the trade for George, the Clippers sent shooting guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and stretch forward Danilo Gallinari to Oklahoma City. The duo has emerged as the top two scorers for the Thunder.
Gilgeous-Alexander, who averaged 10.8 points while playing all 82 games as a rookie point guard on the Clippers last season, is averaging 18.6 points for Oklahoma City. He scored a career-high 32 points in a 126-108 win against the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.
Gallinari is averaging 18.8 points for the Thunder after averaging 19.8 for Los Angeles last season, the highest scoring average of his 11-year NBA career.
Gilgeous-Alexander and Gallinari will try to lead the Thunder to their first four-game win streak of the season, which has lifted their record to .500 (14-14) for the first time as well.
The Thunder opened the current five-game homestand with narrow wins against the Chicago Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies before the 18-point victory against Phoenix.
The Clippers will likely rest leading scorer Kawhi Leonard against the Thunder after he played Saturday night in a 134-109 win at the San Antonio Spurs. Leonard has not played in back-to-back games this season because of lingering knee issues.
Leonard was limited to 27 minutes against the Spurs, prompting a reporter to ask coach Doc Rivers if that increased the possibility of Leonard playing against the Thunder.
“I doubt it,” Rivers said. “(Leonard) may bring it up, but I still don’t think we’ll do it, but we’ll see.”
Whether or not the Clippers have Leonard, forcing turnovers and getting easy baskets in transition remains a key part of their offense.
“When we can turn the ball over, we’re going to score,” Rivers said. “We’ve just got so many guys in transition. You get to the basket or the dunk, but you can also get threes in transition. So any high-turnover game for us that we force, we’re going to have a big offensive night.”
–Field Level Media