Thunder forward Paul George will miss his second straight game tonight, as Oklahoma City visits the San Antonio Spurs (8:30 p.m. EST, Fox Sports Regional). Head coach Billy Donovan confirmed that George is still nursing shoulder soreness he originally suffered against the Denver Nuggets Tuesday night.
Given George’s injury problems in the past, expect Donovan and the Thunder to take their time working the forward back. He snapped a leg back in the 2014 preseason with Team USA, missing all but the final 6 games of the following season. He has demonstrated durability since then, only sitting a handful of appearances since then.
With the 38-23 Thunder standing in third place in the Western Conference, and only 4.5 games back from the top seed, the focus is entering the playoff hunt healthy. In the meantime, they have to find a way to replace the 6-foot-9 star’s 28.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game to maintain their high seed.
Here’s the roster outlook and lineup until George returns:
Thunder Roster and Lineup vs. Spurs
Donovan chose to start Markieff Morris Thursday against the Philadelphia 76ers. The move worked out well, as the 6-foot-10 forward and brother of Marcus tallied 17 points on 12 shots in the 4-point loss.
Morris has averaged 11.2 points and 5 boards in his 8-year career, spanning stints with the Thunder, Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards. His best season came in 2014-15, when he posted a 15.3-point, 6.4-rebound stat line with the Suns.
Morris is a below-average defender, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe.
Teams are plundering the Wiz when Morris shows on the pick-and-roll, per Second Spectrum. He’s a disinterested rebounder, perhaps the main culprit behind Washington being on pace for the worst defensive rebounding rate since 2015. Voracious glass-eaters know they can outwork Morris.
He continued to criticize Morris’ sub-par defensive rebounding numbers, again citing Second Spectrum.
Meanwhile, ESPN’s Kirk Goldsberry calls George “the most disruptive force in the NBA.”
What makes him so great? Let’s begin with the countables:
He leads the league in total steals with 98.
He leads the league in deflected balls with 161.
And, perhaps most importantly, he’s every coach’s favorite because he also leads the NBA in loose balls recovered with 95. Nobody else is even close.
Oklahoma City ranks No. 13 in the league with 111 points allowed per contest. In the last 3 games, however, that number has ballooned to 116. This is also nearly 7 points more per game than last season.
Thunder Outlook Tonight vs. Spurs
The defense couldn’t have played much worse than last time these two teams met. On Jan. 10, San Antonio amassed 154 points in a double-overtime victory. George led the Thunder with 30 points, but Spurs center LaMarcus Aldridge racked up 56 points.
Considering that Morris is more of an interior presence than George, that puts a below-average defender in the path of Aldridge. The Thunder will likely just have to win a shootout, riding the coattails of guard Russell Westbrook.
The star guard averages a triple-double per night with 22.5 points, 11.3 rebounds and 10.9 assists. An on-brand performance like this would go a long way towards fueling a Thunder road triumph.