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Severity of Serge Ibaka’s injury, per Paul George, Ty Lue

Serge Ibaka, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Tyronn Lue, Clippers

Thursday will mark 52 days and 27 consecutive games that Serge Ibaka has been out due to his back injury. With only six games left in the regular season for Paul George, Tyronn Lue, and the LA Clippers, there’s no return date in sight for the big man.

“Don’t have a potential return date,” Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said Wednesday. “I know Serge has been doing everything in his power with five, six, seven hours a day of just rehabbing, trying to get himself back.”

In a recent exchange with ClutchPoints, Ibaka said, “I’m doing well. I’m getting better every day. No date yet, but soon.”

Ibaka suffered what the team called, ‘lower back tightness’ during the March 14th game vs. the New Orleans Pelicans. Since that day, the Clippers have kept relatively quiet about the true nature of his injury. Whenever asked about any update on his status and his injury, Lue and the Clippers simply said, ‘he was progressing.’

“I can’t get into specifics,” Lue countered when asked about what Ibaka’s dealing with. “Like I said, he’s just figuring through some things. He’s just trying to fight through, get better, constantly do his rehab to get back on the floor.”

In all of the Clippers’ road trips since his injury, Ibaka has remained in Los Angeles to rehab. For about a week now, Ibaka has progressed to playing 4-on-4 and 5-on-5 basketball at practice. It seems the biggest hurdles, as of right now, are playing for an extended period of time and physicality.

“Seeing him on the floor the last few times playing 4-on-4, 5-on-5, just trying to get used to getting hit again, getting banged, the physicality of the game. That’s gonna take some time, especially when you come off the situation that he’s going through right now and that’s to be expected, but for him to be out there on the floor is a positive for us right now. We don’t have a return date as of right now.”

 

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Despite not traveling on any of the trips, Ibaka has remained closely in touch with the team, constantly in the group chat anytime they’re not playing.

“He’s just still staying involved,” Paul George said of Ibaka Wednesday. “He’s still communicating with the group, still engaged with the games, he’s still pretty much a part of this team even when we’re on the road and he’s staying behind to train and rehab. He’s still texting our chat and kind of letting us know he’s still supporting us, he’s still there for us, he’s still communicating with us.”

George, however, did have a bit of a revealing line when he vaguely mentioned Ibaka’s injury.

“We’re not rushing him,” George added. “We understand the severity of his injury and his rehab, we’re with him when he’s available and when he’s ready to go and we support him through this whole process.”

‘The severity of his injury,’ is certainly a worrisome quote from George. However, considering Ibaka’s missed nearly two months with ‘back stiffness,’ it’s clearly something serious. The good news is all signs at least point to Ibaka making significant progress over the last few weeks.

Does that mean we’ll see him anytime soon? If I had to guess at the moment, I’d say a return at some point during the first round is possible. Aside from the conditioning aspect that’s nearly impossible to replicate outside of actual games, throwing Ibaka into the fire in the middle of a playoff series could be a dangerous game to play.

Another reason to believe Ibaka isn’t necessarily, ‘close,’ to a return is the uptick in minutes for DeMarcus Cousins at center. After a month away from the NBA, Cousins played a total of 34 minutes across his first seven games with LA, including three DNP’s. Since April 18th, Cousins is sixth on the team in minutes played at 71 across eight games, averaging 10.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.3 assists on 54.9 percent shooting.

Maybe ramping Cousins up is due to Patrick Patterson’s often ineffective play as a small-ball five man. It could also be just to have Cousins ready to play in case of an emergency. Either way, the Clippers appear to be preparing Cousins for a big role with the second unit.

“I bring a different dynamic to the team and T-Lue has done a great job incorporating me and my talents, making me feel a part of this,” Cousins said after joining the team. “I just go in and try to play my role and help with whatever I can, so it’s been a smooth transition and it’s still a work in progress…

“I understand the situation that I’m in, whatever opportunity is given to me, I plan on just taking full advantage of it, just controlling what I can control.”

The Clippers would easily welcome Serge Ibaka back as soon as he’s able to return, but the team has clearly been preparing Cousins for a role in the rotation in the coming weeks.

In 39 appearances this season, all starts, Serge Ibaka averaged 10.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.2 blocks per game on 50.7 percent shooting from the field, 35.2 percent from beyond the arc, and 82.2 percent from the free throw line.

The NBA playoffs are set to begin May 22nd following the five-day play-in tournament period.