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Paul George nearing all-important return

For the first time in three months, Paul George has been listed as something other than “OUT” on the team’s injury report.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Los Angeles Clippers Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in three months, the LA Clippers seem to be getting some good news on the injury front. Paul George, who has been sidelined since Christmas with a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, has been listed as questionable for Tuesday’s game against the Utah Jazz, according to ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk.

Prior to Monday’s practice session, coach Tyronn Lue indicated that George was able to participate in a 5-on-5 workout on Sunday with several other players and team personnel. It was another step in a positive direction for George, who also practiced with the team on Thursday, his first official practice with the Clippers in over three months.

On Thursday, Lue said George was “doing good” and was experiencing no pain whatsoever in his elbow.

While the Clippers have been on the unfortunate end of a losing streak, the team has remained optimistic that George would be able to return at some point this season. That optimism grew in recent days as the time off for the team allowed George to reconnect on the court with his teammates and coaching staff.

The progression for George has been simple to follow. In early February, he was seen at the Clippers’ practice facility working out, but only shooting with his left hand rather than his right.

Over the next month or so, George would continue with his workout regimen in order to possibly come back. The next time George was seen by reporters inside the practice facility didn’t come for another month.

During the early part of March, George went through a lengthy shooting workout in front of scattered media and reporters, but ultimately did not join the team for the practice session that followed.

When asked by reporters shortly afterwards how he thought George had looked that early March day, Lue said that he didn’t actually see George taking shots.

“I seen him on the court rebounding for [Terance Mann]. I didn’t see him shoot or nothing. I didn’t. I didn’t see him shoot. How’d he look?”

When told that George looked good, Lue used the phrase that he’s echoed plenty of times this season: “Well, he’s doing better.”

That was essentially the last George was seen until this past Thursday when, for the first time since his injury in December, he participated fully in practice.

Ultimately, George has been part of three practice sessions — two official and one unofficial — in the last five days, with all three involving 5-on-5 competitive basketball. That ramp-up has put George on pace to play in Tuesday’s game against Utah, a game that could see the Clippers right the ship in the standings as they’ve lost five in a row.

Before practice on Monday, Lue iterated that the call on whether or not George plays is not up to him so much as it is up to the team’s medical staff.

“We’ve just got to see how today’s practice goes and see how he’s feeling, and then just go from there,” Lue remarked, before adding, “Whatever the medical staff seems to think is ideal, that’s what we’ll do.”

Lue has generally erred on the side of caution when it comes to injuries, allowing the players to return only when the medical staff deems it appropriate for them to do so. But Lue also didn’t deny the boost it could give the team, both on the court and mentally.

“Like I always say, hope is stronger than fear,” said Lue. “So to have the hope that he could come back would be great for our team, especially the job our team has done all season long of just playing out of position, doing more than they would normally do on a night-to-night basis. But this team has done it, so right now we are dragging a little bit, and to get a guy like [Paul George] back would definitely help us out.”

George has missed the team’s last 43 games. The Clippers are 19-24 in that time.

But even that record isn’t too porous considering they’ve missed Kawhi Leonard all season and been without Norman Powell, who was acquired shortly before the trade deadline, for the last 18 games. To be without their top three options and be firmly entrenched into the Western Conference’s eighth spot is a feather in Lue’s cap this season.

Either way, George appears ready to return. Whether or not Leonard and Powell follow suit remains to be seen. For now, though, one piece of good news is all this team needs to potentially get the ball rolling again.