PREVIEW: All-Stars Kawhi Leonard, Paul George set for Clippers matchup vs. Grizzlies

Feb 26, 2020; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) and guard Paul George (13) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Grizzlies welcome the Los Angeles Clippers to Memphis on Thursday, tipping off a back-to-back pair of games between the Western Conference counterparts.

Thursday’s matchup begins a five-game road swing for the Clippers. They are coming off a 4-2 homestand, capping the stretch on Tuesday with a 135-116 rout of Washington.

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Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, both named to the NBA All-Star Team, scored 32 and 30 points in the win. The duo missed an earlier stretch, Leonard out three games with a leg contusion and George sidelined seven with bone edema in a toe.

Tuesday’s game was the third back in the lineup for both.

Leonard is averaging a team-high 27.1 points per game. George is posting 24.6 points and a team-best 5.4 assists per game, good enough to lock up a selection as an All-Star reserve.

“He deserves it, and the kind of year he’s having,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said in a press conference on Tuesday. “It just shows the hard work he put in over the summer to get back to this point.”

George said in his press conference Tuesday that he did not agree with the NBA holding the All-Star Game amid the COVID-19 pandemic, although he added that being selected “is a good milestone, but definitely (not) where I want it to end.”

The Clippers come into Thursday’s matchup second in the Western Conference, three games behind Utah. Los Angeles split two games with the Jazz last week.

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Memphis looks to improve its positioning for a postseason berth, sitting a game out of the last playoff spot after a 102-92 loss at Dallas on Monday.

The Grizzlies endured further disappointment on Tuesday when guard Ja Morant was denied a spot on the All-Star team. Morant is averaging team highs of 19.1 points and 7.9 assists per game but has missed eight games with an ankle injury.

Morant’s lengthy absence was part of a larger issue for the Grizzlies. Memphis has been ravaged by injuries throughout the season, most recently losing Dillon Brooks – who averages 15.8 points — for the past three games with a thigh injury.

Both Jaren Jackson Jr. and Killian Tillie have been out for the entire season. Reinforcements arrived recently from Justise Winslow, who missed the first 25 games of the campaign with a hip injury.

Winslow returned Feb. 20 and shot 3-of-14 for nine points in a 31-point loss to Phoenix. He went 1-of-10 from the floor for three points Monday against Dallas.

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Brandon Clarke, Grayson Allen and Kyle Anderson returned to the lineup from brief injuries on Monday. Despite having a fuller rotation available, Memphis shot just 39.4 percent against the Mavericks and fell short of 100 points for a second consecutive game.

“I feel like we were just missing on the other end,” Morant said in his postgame press conference. “We got to learn. We’ll get better, it takes time. As long as we stay positive and continue to play our basketball with our heads up out there fighting, we’ll be good.”

–Field Level Media