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The Los Angeles Clippers won’t play a role in this year’s playoffs, but coach Ty Lue still thinks they “can be special” next season.

The Clippers finished eighth in the West to enter the Play-In Tournament, but did not reach the playoffs with back-to-back losses.

After losing 109-104 to the Minnesota Timberwolves with Paul George in the lineup, the seven-time All-Star was within health and safety protocols for Friday’s decisive 105-101 loss at home to the New York Pelicans. -Orleans.

George’s absence has been a blow to the Clippers, not that playing without him is a new experience.

Injuries limited George to 31 games this year – in which he averaged 24.3 team-leading points – but that was 31 games more than the team came out of the two-time MVP of NBA Finals Kawhi Leonard, who is still recovering from a partial ACL tear in last season’s playoffs.

Even Norman Powell, signed in February, suffered a setback and was only able to play a few minutes in a bench role after returning before the play-offs.

Since the Clippers signed George and Leonard ahead of the 2019-20 season, they’ve only played together in 104 games during the regular season and playoffs.

The Clippers are 72-32 (.692) in those games, down from 83-71 (.539) in 154 when one of their superstars is absent.

Because of this, Lue can retain some optimism as they hope Leonard returns for 2022-23.

“We’re getting our main guys back, we can be dangerous,” he said after the Pelicans game. “Health is part of it. We have to stay healthy, keep working.

“When you get Kawhi, a top five player, PG, an eternal All-Star, your team changes a lot.

“Guys who have taken on bigger roles this year, who have never been in that position before, they can kind of fall back into their original roles.

“We could be very different with these two guys back and healthy. We can be special.”

The Pelicans themselves have missed out on a big name this year, with former No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson joining Leonard to sit out the entire season so far.

In his place, CJ McCollum and, particularly in the qualifying tournament, Brandon Ingram stepped up to lead the Pelicans to a first-round series against title favorites the Phoenix Suns.

Ingram has averaged 18.5 points per game for his career and 22.7 in the regular season this year, but 28.5 in play-in wins over the San Antonio Spurs and Clippers.

His 30 led the team on Friday, earning praise from coach Willie Green.

“Brandon Ingram is the truth,” Green said. “He just brought it. He had that look in his eye from the moment we got on the plane. Shootaround, he was locked in. He’s been waiting for this moment, this type of moment.”

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