For about a month after he was sidelined due to a torn ligament in his right elbow, Paul George had no choice but to wait.
He has had serious injuries before, but the process of waiting for it, in December, is new for him.
No activity for a few weeks. He has not been able to return to court for more than two months. Her body, doctors told her, just needed rest.
George watches NBA games at home with his fiancé, daughters, newborn son. Kids watch occasionally, but usually stay busy with their iPads while George focuses on work.
He will pay enough attention to providing suggestions or words of encouragement to his fellow Los Angeles Clippers via text message. But soon, he felt intense guilt.
“Earlier they did a good job of kind of rallying and staying together and had a strong time, but as time went on, they kind of hit a wall and ran out of fuel,” he said. and George. “It’s very noticeable. Lisud kadto. It’s hard to see that and not help them. I think that’s probably the hardest part for me – watching. ”
When George last returned on March 29, he immediately scored 34 points to help the Clippers get back a win against the Utah Jazz.
George is one of an unusually large group of players with proven talent injured in much of the 2021-22 regular season. He and others sustained serious injuries, and watched their teams go on without them, while embarking on an often lonely road back. Like George, some of them return to their teams in time for the playoffs and have a chance to radically change the fortunes of their team.
“Having one of our best players, one of the best players in the league, someone who is better on both sides of the ball, perfectly do everything we ask of him and more, “said Clippers guard Reggie Jackson. “Just bringing him back, bringing back our leaders, you know, face of the franchise and one of the best players in the world, gives us more confidence.”
George’s teammate Kawhi Leonard was seen shooting at the team’s practice facility, not participating the entire season while recovering from ACL surgery. Denver’s Jamal Murray, who had the same surgery, is showing positive signs of recovery, though it’s unclear if he will return.
Center Brook Lopez returned to the Milwaukee Bucks on March 14 for the first time since the start of the season. He underwent back surgery in December and was listed as “not forever.”
“I have had injuries a few times. It’s always just made me appreciate basketball and love it even more, ”Lopez told reporters after his first game back. “I try not to waste my time on the court, whether it’s practice, shootaround or game.”
He smiled broadly when asked about the return.
“I miss it so much,” Lopez said.
Miami Heat guard Victor Oladipo is well aware of the pains of being away for a long time. He has support from friends and family after injuries, but the road back is still not easy.
“It can be lonely sometimes,” Oladipo said. “You have to be your biggest fan. You have to be your own motivation. You need to inspire yourself, you need to communicate with yourself, you need to be your best friend.
Oladipo was an All-Star with the Indiana Pacers in 2017-18 and 2018-19. He broke his quadriceps tendon in January 2019 and underwent surgery shortly thereafter. A year later he returned to play but he still didn’t feel well.
“You seem to be blocking you from where you need to be,” Oladipo said. “Or that’s what you’re used to and you can’t go back to playing freely.”
He said he realized immediately after his surgery that it was done wrong. He needed a second operation in May last year; he didn’t make his debut this season until last month.
Oladipo spent about a month and a half on a cast after the second surgery before restarting the process of learning how to use his legs properly.
If he can’t be with the team for games, he will sometimes rent a movie theater at Brickell City Center in Miami to watch games on his own, or with his assistant or manager.
“The screen is so big, it makes you feel like you’re in the game,” Oladipo said.
He watched critically, as he sat in the front row, trying to predict how the action would take place. Sometimes he will wonder what decisions he could have made if he were the coach.
“You want to help the team,” Oladipo said. “If the team is doing well, you want to be a part of that. You just have to focus on you and focus on doing the things you can to be healthy and right so you can impact the win and help them the most. as much as you can.
Unlike Lopez and George, Oladipo’s role in the Heat ahead has not been fully established. He’s only played eight games since returning on March 7. On April 3 in Toronto, he scored 21 points.
“These are things we’ve seen daily, behind the scenes,” Chris Quinn, an assistant coach with the Heat, told reporters after the game, while replacing Coach Erik Spoelstra, who was absent due to coronavirus protocols. “It’s diligence, it’s grit, it’s grinding. When it comes to what he has suffered because of harm, and for him to get to this point, it’s still part of the process for him to be what he can be. ”
The Heat didn’t play Oladipo in their next two games, but he scored 40 points in the team’s regular season finale on Sunday.
“I’m still able to do a lot of the good things there, a lot of the good things there,” Oladipo said in an interview in late March. “Now, I think my goal for this team is to do everything that needs to be done for us to win.”
The need for patience does not end once a player returns from injury. Prohibitions on minutes and nights without work are more common after long dismissals.
For George, that means that in his second game comeback – an overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls – he will no longer be able to play in the overtime period.
“He tried to lobby, but it wasn’t for him,” Clippers Coach Tyronn Lue said of George’s minutes ban. “Our medical staff is the best in the league, so we give them full responsibility, and allow the player to protect him from himself because he wants to play. All the players want to play when they are on the floor.
As George recalls the months he spent not playing basketball, he recognized the challenge of being forced to walk away from the court. But overall he was comfortable with how it happened.
“I think that’s what made the process so good and that’s what made me feel so good about it,” George said. “There is no low point. I listened to my body; my body hurts. I knew I needed a few hours of rest. ”
There is also a silver lining.
“I think the positives I took away from it were the long time spent with my family,” George said. “With my kids. My girl. I spend a lot of time that I don’t usually spend because I’m playing on the road.
The Clippers exceeded expectations without him. While the entire town the Lakers couldn’t overcome the loss of LeBron James and Anthony Davis due to long-term injuries, the Clippers qualified for the play-in tournament without George for most of the season and without Leonard.
While Oladipo and the Heat are stuck with the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Clippers, at No. 8 in the West, will have to fight in the play-in tournament to get the seventh or eighth seed. They won four of the first five games after George returned. He can do more than just watch their postseason start.