Paul George to miss Clippers-Pelicans play-in game (coronavirus)

Paul George in Los Angeles Clippers v Minnesota Timberwolves
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The Clippers will host the Pelicans tonight in a winner-take-all play-in game for the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

Without their best (non-Kawhi Leonard) player.

Paul George tested positive for coronavirus, according to Clippers executive Lawrence Frank.

Mirjam Swanson of Southern California News Group:

This is not only a huge blow to the Clippers, this development sends shockwaves through the NBA as the league undertakes another postseason amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The NBA reduced testing for asymptomatic vaccinated players. Fully vaccinated people are less likely to contract coronavirus and, if they do have a breakthrough case, less likely to suffer severe outcomes. The Clippers were fully vaccinated as of September, according to coach Tyronn Lue, though it’s unclear whether George received a booster. However, it sounds like George’s symptoms triggered the test, anyway.

There’s room to debate how the NBA should handle the virus. NBA players are young, generally healthy and heavily vaccinated – i.e., less likely to suffer severe effects from coronavirus. Though players could pass the virus to others who are at higher risk, vaccines and N95 masks are widely available, treatment has improved and natural immunity has grown. As a result, COVID-19 is becoming more like the flu.

Michael Jordan is celebrated for playing through the flu (even if he didn’t actually have the flu). Maybe the risk tolerance for players playing through any airborne contagious illness has changed. But it’d be worth noting that shift. Even without a change in risk tolerance, it’s debatable when COVID-19 has become similar enough to the flu. There aren’t necessarily easy answers.

While these debates felt less significant during the long regular season, the basketball stakes are far higher now. George missing this single game could end the Clippers’ season.

That might seem unfair considering L.A. (42-40) was better than New Orleans (36-46) over the regular season. But that got the Clippers some advantages. They had a chance to reach the playoffs by beating the Timberwolves while New Orleans had to beat the Spurs just to get this far. L.A. also gets to host tonight’s game.

To avoid the pitfalls of the play-in tournament, the Clippers could have secured a top-six seed to directly qualify into the playoffs. Though an incredibly bad break, this is the type of risk L.A. exposed itself to by finishing eighth in the West.

At least the Clippers bolstered their wing depth by trading for Norman Powell and Robert Covington just before the trade deadline. Even within a mediocre season, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer’s spending gives his team its best chance to win.

But that depth is a small silver lining against the massive setback of losing George.