By; Robert Bishop
Back again, and in a surprise development, Clippers wing Paul George returned to the court last night, leading L.A. to a win over the reeling Utah Jazz. It took George, who has missed most of the season following elbow surgery, to find his rhythm, but he was in MVP form during the second half. George led the game with 34 points while finishing with six dimes and four steals. However, despite the win and George’s play, there were obvious signs that the Clippers have some work to do to be genuine championship contenders with George back in the fold. The team’s rotations were chaotic, and no one on the Clippers impressed aside from George, Luke Kennard, and Isaiah Hartenstein. L.A. has a few games remaining to work out the system’s kinks before heading into the play-in tournament as a suddenly very dangerous team.
While the Clippers welcomed back a superstar just in time for a playoff push, the Lakers may be too late in doing the same. Anthony Davis appears set to return to the Lakers by the weekend, but following last night’s embarrassing loss to the Mavericks, L.A. has fallen out of the play-in tournament. The Lakers have dropped three straight games, a poorly-timed streak of futility given San Antonio’s current four-game winning streak. Los Angeles players three times in four days beginning on Thursday, and all three are difficult matchups with the Jazz, Pelicans, and Nuggets on tap. The Lakers are sitting at 31-44 heading into tomorrow night’s game and will likely need to win at least one of the three to have any hopes of surpassing the Spurs in the race for the final play-in spot.
For the past few weeks, the Boston Celtics have emerged as viable championship contenders behind Jayson Tatum’s realizing his superstar potential to lead the team’s offense and big man Robert Williams evolving into a defensive anchor in the paint. Unfortunately for Boston, Williams was forced from the team’s game this weekend with a knee injury, and on Tuesday, the Celtics confirmed he would miss the rest of the regular season with a torn ligament in his knee. Williams’s status for the playoffs is unknown, but anything other than having Williams at full strength in the loaded Eastern Conference will be complicated for Boston to overcome. The Celtics are in the thick of a four-team race for the top spot in the conference heading into the season’s final stretch.
On Monday night, the Atlanta Hawks won over the tanking Indiana Pacers, improving to 7-3 over the past ten games. It’s a much-needed hot streak for Atlanta heading into the play-in tournament, a disappointing result for the Hawks following last year’s Eastern Conference Finals appearance. However disappointing the team has been in the regular season, the Hawks are well-positioned to change the conversation in the playoffs. Like last season, the Hawks boast tremendous depth behind star guard Trae Young, and the team is hitting a hot streak at the right time. Atlanta finishes the season with a game against the Thunder tonight and then a selection of games against contenders, including potential play-in opponents, the Cavaliers, Raptors, and Nets.
On the season, Memphis improved to 18-2 without Ja Morant, continuing to dazzle without the All-Star guard. On Monday night, the win was a dominating blowout victory over the Golden State Warriors, with second-year sharpshooter Desmond Bane leading the way. Memphis has now won five straight games, improving to 53-23 on the year and surging into second place in the West over the Warriors. Most encouraging during Memphis’s streak has been the team’s ability to integrate Dillon Brooks back into the rotation while also leaning on backup guard De’Anthony Melton for a more significant role in Morant’s offense. It bears repeating: the upstart Grizzlies are a legitimate championship team.