LOS ANGELES — After Paul George returned to action Thursday following a two-game absence, the Clippers’ All-Star acknowledged that he and the team are still trying to find answers for the lingering pain in his right foot.
His latest injury is related to swelling in the bone of a toe on his right foot that previously sidelined him for a seven-game stretch in February, George said. Though he described himself as “better” Thursday, he said the injury has sapped some of his explosiveness.
“It’s really no ‘pop’ on the right foot,” said George, who scored 17 points in 31 minutes during the Clippers’ 101-94 loss to Denver at Staples Center but didn’t have his usual lift on a fourth-quarter shot attempt at the rim that was contested and missed. “I can’t really bend my toe and have it flexing all the way on that second toe.”
“It’s just figuring it out. I got to figure it out. Most importantly, if I can play, and play with minimal pain, that’s what I’m going for. We got to figure it out, though.”
In the Clippers’ ideal scenario, their second-leading scorer (22.5 points per game on 42% three-point shooting) would rest as much as necessary during the regular season’s final 22 games. That sort of luxury doesn’t appear likely, however, given that the team has played the last two weeks without starters in center Serge Ibaka (back) and guard Patrick Beverley (right knee), and neither appears close to returning.
In addition Rajon Rondo, the point guard acquired from Atlanta at the trade deadline, has yet to play because of an adductor injury.
“It’s no pity party,” George said. “Nobody is going to feel sorry for us because we have guys out. We got to find the way to get the job done, and I think we have been doing that up until the last two games before we had some slippage. Overall, we have been finding some ways to do it.”
For George, the greatest hurdle he faces in ramping up for the postseason is how to find ways to be effective amid lingering pain.
“Honestly,” he said, “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.”
He later added: “You play through what you can, and what you can’t, you got to be smart about. If it was my way, I wish I could be on the court and play all the games. But some days it is more sore than others, and so you look ahead and plan ahead.”
Rest is critical but fleeting in the NBA’s pandemic-shortened, 72-game schedule. The Clippers plan to take Friday off before practicing Saturday ahead of Sunday’s matchup against the Lakers. Five more two-day breaks dot their season’s final six weeks.
The attrition can feel as though the roster’s development is stuck in a “holding pattern,” coach Tyronn Lue said, yet the Clippers (32-18), who enter Sunday’s matchup against the Lakers losers of two straight but winners of six of their last eight, have also said that playing short-handed hasn’t precluded progress from occurring.
Amid their recent six-game winning streak, which was built while Ibaka and Beverley sat, players described a sense of building momentum as the team began to embrace the defense-first attitude Lue has desired from the season’s start.
“We’ve added some new stuff while Pat has been out, while Serge has been out, Rondo is still coming along, so it is going to take some time,” Lue said. “The time we need is shoot-arounds, we need the practices as well. Just keep getting better. We had this problem last year so we just can’t fall victim to that again.”
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