HOUSTON — Paul George is likely to make his LA Clippers debut on Thursday at the New Orleans Pelicans, barring something unexpected, coach Doc Rivers said Wednesday prior to the Clippers’ 102-93 loss to the Houston Rockets.
“Maybe tomorrow or whenever we play after that,” Rivers said of George, who is making his way back after having offseason surgeries on both of his shoulders.
Sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Tuesday that George was leaning toward making his debut Thursday, but the swingman was questionable for Wednesday’s game in Houston until Rivers ruled him out.
If George does go Thursday, it is unclear whether he’ll take the floor with fellow All-Star Kawhi Leonard. Leonard played against the Rockets, scoring 26 points to go with 12 rebounds and 7 assists, but Rivers would not commit to his status against the Pelicans.
In the Clippers’ two previous sets of back-to-back games, Leonard sat out the first game due to load management for a patellar tendon injury in his left knee. This is the first back-to-back set in which Leonard has played in the first game.
Rivers admits that it has been more challenging than expected to not only incorporate two new stars into his team but also adjust to not having one of them for the first 11 games of the season and having the other sit twice already.
“Honestly, it has probably been harder than we thought because we are still in the process of getting Kawhi right 100 percent, and then you don’t have Paul at all,” Rivers said. “Then you have a select few practices, and you have to make a choice every practice: Do you put Paul in the lineup even though he’s not playing, but then you got to play tomorrow with another group, or do you put Paul in the second group, and we have chosen the second group, even the third group at times. I don’t think he’s yet to play even one minute with the starting lineup yet. It’s just going to take time.”
Rivers has been running three to four plays designed strictly for George every day in practice, despite not having George available in games in preparation.
“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.
“They are similar in the way they play. Paul comes off of more pindowns and screens, which actually adds to your offense because guys that do that create an offense in itself. JJ Redick, we used him running around and [also] Ray Allen [in Boston]. But it also created another offense for everyone else because of that, and Paul George can do that as well.”
George, who underwent surgery in May to repair a partially torn tendon in his right shoulder and another procedure to repair a partial tear of his left labrum a month later, went through his first full live practice Saturday.
“My shoulders haven’t been this good in a long time,” George told ESPN in early October during Clippers training camp. “I shot the ball pretty well last season, so I’m excited for what’s to come.”