Few teams in basketball have been hit harder by injuries than the Los Angeles Clippers. Almost every member of the rotation has missed a meaningful number of games, and when they played the Denver Nuggets on Thursday, they were without Serge Ibaka, Patrick Beverley and Rajon Rondo. One player who did play? Paul George, but if his recent production is any indication, he's far from healthy himself.
George has suffered through a bone edema in his right big toe, and that injury has robbed him of most of his explosiveness in the past several weeks. George is shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from behind the 3-point line since the All-Star break, but perhaps most distressingly, he's fallen to 43.5 percent in the restricted area. Even basic finishes have become challenges for George as he struggles to lift himself off of the ground.
"We are trying to figure it out now," George told reporters when asked if this injury could linger. "Honestly, we're trying to get on top of it now. Hasn't seemed to go away yet. But at this point, it is just managing the soreness and swelling."
"There really is no pop on the right foot, because I can't really bend my toe and I had it flexing all the way on that second toe," he added. "Just figuring it out. I got to figure it out. Most importantly, if I can play and playing with minimal pain, that is what I am going for. But we got to figure it out, though."
The Clippers were especially conservative in managing injuries last season, with George and Kawhi Leonard routinely sitting out one night on back-to-backs, but they've gotten more aggressive this season. That might have played a part in George's return to the floor against Denver after missing the previous two games, but clearly, he is not yet back to 100 percent. It's a delicate balance for the Clippers. Many believe they lost last season at least in part because of poor chemistry stemming from limited time on the court together. Injuries this season haven't helped matters, and the Clippers have had to integrate several new players. They're running out of time to jell ahead of the postseason, and last night's victory tied the Nuggets with the Clippers in the loss column.
That's a dangerous position for the Clippers to be in with six weeks left in the regular season. The more games they win, the more control they'd have over their place in the standings. With a possible rematch against Denver looking like a distinct first-round possibility and the Lakers looming as one of the most dangerous lower seeds in NBA history, seeding flexibility is more important than ever in the Western Conference.
Every time the Clippers look ready to make a run, more injuries get in the way. They'd won six games in a row before their recent back-to-back losses, but that initial winning streak came after a 5-8 stretch that effectively ended any hopes the Clippers might've had for the Western Conference's top seed. Now, they have 22 games left to get healthy and get comfortable with one another, and without knowing how long it will take George to recover, they're going to have a hard time doing both.