With Paul George back in the lineup Tuesday night after missing nearly two weeks due to hamstring issues, the Los Angeles Clippers fielded a starting lineup that had never played together this season.
Injuries have turned Clippers coach Tyronn Lue into a lineup juggler. He will shake up the starting crew again on Wednesday night when Los Angeles visits Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Jazz in a back-to-back scenario.
George started alongside Kawhi Leonard, Terance Mann, Marcus Morris Sr. and Ivica Zubac on Tuesday against the visiting Philadelphia 76ers, but following the Clippers’ 120-110 loss, he said he would not play against the Jazz.
The seven-time All-Star and team officials want to be “smart about it” in terms of his comeback, he said.
George scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 29 minutes against the 76ers. He has missed 14 games overall this season, including the past five prior to the Tuesday contest, so a gradual return makes sense.
“I thought he was a little rusty as far as handling the basketball, making the plays, that’s to be expected,” Lue said. “Just getting him back on the floor was a positive thing for us.”
While the Clippers got George back, they were without John Wall. The five-time All-Star sustained an abdominal injury on Friday against the Denver Nuggets and is expected to be out for a minimum of two weeks.
Los Angeles’ Luke Kennard has missed five consecutive games because of a calf ailment and is day-to-day.
“I know we have a good team,” Lue said, “but as far as staying healthy, we need to establish some continuity.”
The Jazz also are playing short-handed. Utah did, however, manage to pick up a nice win in Minnesota on Monday without leading scorer Lauri Markkanen. The Finnisher, as the 7-foot forward from Finland is being called, has missed two games in a row due to a hip injury. He is listed as questionable for Wednesday.
The Jazz eked out a 126-125 win over the Timberwolves as seven Utah players scored in double figures, including Jordan Clarkson, who had 21 points and the game-winning free throw in the final seconds.
That triumph came after Utah lost 118-117 against the visiting 76ers on Saturday, falling after Joel Embiid scored a game-winning bucket in the waning moments. Embiid scored 30 against Utah before dropping 41 on the Clippers on Tuesday.
“Another game, another chaotic finish for the Jazz,” Utah coach Will Hardy said after the frenetic ending in Minnesota. “This is who we are at this point. I’ve said it a bunch of times this year: We are perfectly imperfect, we’re scrappy, we’re tough, we got heart, we go through great moments, we go through tough moments, but the guys never stop fighting.”
To wit, the Jazz lead the NBA in games played in the clutch, a statistic that accounts for games within five points with five minutes or less remaining. Utah is 14-18 in those contests. The Clippers are 12-11 in “clutch” games.
The Wednesday game will be the finale of the season series between the Jazz and Clippers. Utah has a 2-1 edge, having won once on the road and at home.
Los Angeles will begin a road-heavy stretch with the visit to Salt Lake City. The Clippers will play their next four away from home and will be on the road for 10 of their next 11, though one of those away contests is vs. the Los Angeles Lakers.
The schedule is in Utah’s favor, on the other hand. The Jazz will play the next three at home, travel for a one-off in Portland, and then return for five consecutive games on their own court.
–Field Level Media