We’ve seen what the Los Angeles Lakers look like with LeBron James and Anthony Davis side-by-side. Pretty good, actually.
We’ve only been able to imagine what the Brooklyn Nets will do when Kevin Durant teams up with Kyrie Irving next year. Seems fascinating.
There’s only one major coupling that NBA circumstance has not yet allowed. But that’s probably going to end Thursday night when Paul George unites with Kawhi Leonard for the first time with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Unless something truly unfortunate happens before them, Leonard and George will be together when the Clippers play in New Orleans.
Of course, there’s always the possibility Leonard will not play Thursday. The Clippers struggled during a 102-93 loss in Houston on Wednesday, so its likely he might not dress. Leonard hasn’t played in back-to-back games yet – a trend that developed last season in Toronto when he appeared in only 60 regular season games.
“My health is No. 1 and that’s what’s gonna make us be a better team, make me be healthy,” Leonard said Monday. “We’ll just see how things go.”
It’s hard to underestimate how cool it’s finally going to be seeing Leonard and George together. Alone they are dynamic. Together they can be unstoppable. Just imagine how much easier it will be for Clippers coach Doc Rivers knowing he’ll have George on the floor on those nights he needs to rest Leonard because of his cranky knee.
George reappeared at practice on Saturday and for the first time and raised a heavy sweat. That was always the intention of Rivers. There’s no sense coddling him at this point. If he’s ready to play, he’s ready to work.
Frankly, it’s been a long wait for Clippers fans. George had rotator cuff surgery to repair a partially torn tendon in his right shoulder in May and then a minor procedure to repair a partial tear of his left labrum in June.
Still, the Clippers acquired him from Oklahoma City on July 5, the same night Leonard signed. They figured the wait would be worth it.
What are the Clippers getting in George? Simply an MVP-caliber star coming off a great 2018-19 season during which he averaged a career-high 28 points. Remember, he was also a finalist for the league’s defensive player of the year.
“From a health standpoint, I feel great,” George said. “But I think just rhythm, especially where these guys are at right now in their season, they’re flowing right now. So I just want to come in with an easy transition.
“I’m gonna play hard, make mistakes. It’s part of the game, but I plan on learning from that point on to where late in the season, I’m where I want to be.”
George’s teammates are obviously excited about seeing him on the floor for the first time.
“His ability to get steals, whether it’s on-ball defense, getting his hands in there, or whether it’s off-ball defense being in the passing lanes and taking off for transition down getting a dunk,” forward Patrick Patterson, who played with George the last two seasons in Oklahoma City, told the Los Angeles Times “Also in the half court him just one-on-one in the post making his moves, leading to his nice, smooth jump shot, nothing but net.”
“It will take him some time. As soon as he gets back he’s not going to be 12 for 20 from the field, 30-point game, five steals. He’s not going to have that his first night out — I would love for that to happen, I assume he would, too, but logically speaking I don’t think it’s going to happen the first night, so it’s going to take him some time to get his groove back and his timing back, everything that involves P being P back. But we’ve seen flashes of it in workouts.”
The Clippers have already played 11 games (7-4) and have grown accustomed to Rivers’ substitution patterns. That is about to dramatically change. Although it might not happen immediately, you can expect George to play at least 35 minutes a night. And that is going to displace others.
“Anybody who thinks they’re going to keep their minutes and Paul’s not going to get them is probably not very rational, anyway, when you think about it,” Rivers said. “That’s why teams work because you have to understand that.”
The timing couldn’t be more perfect. Guard Landry Shamet just suffered a high ankle sprain and the Clippers are fearful he could miss up to two months.
Rivers told the media this week he’s been preparing for George’s return by running plays in practice designed especially for him.
“We’ll figure it out,” Rivers said. “It will take time, especially late-game stuff, ATO (after timeout) stuff, but you’ll take it. You’ll just take the talent. You know no matter what, you can run a play for Paul George. No matter what, you can run something for Kawhi. What I don’t know is the rotations, the lineups that we can throw out on the floor.”