George leads the Clippers ahead of the Kings for a 4th consecutive victory | Basketball

By JOE REEDY – AP Sportswriter

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Paul George has warned the Western Conference that he’s ready for the qualifying tournament and hopefully beyond.

George scored 23 points, tied a career high with 12 assists and added eight rebounds as the Los Angeles Clippers won their fourth straight game, beating the Sacramento Kings 117-98 on Saturday night.

The Clippers are 5-1 since George returned to the lineup. He is averaging 22.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists after missing 43 games with an elbow injury.

“The elbow is fine. I feel pretty good,” George said. “Overall, I try to take every possession for what it is and try to make the best game I can.

“Honestly, I love being content with being a playmaker rather than a goalscorer. With this team, my ability to score is to open up the passes and play. It’s easier when I can find guys to do baskets.

George played 34 minutes, his record since his return. He will not play in Sunday’s regular season finale against Oklahoma City.

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The Clippers will face Minnesota on Tuesday in the qualifying tournament. A win would send Los Angeles into the playoffs for the fourth straight year and a first-round game against the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies.

A loss to the Timberwolves would allow the Clippers to meet New Orleans or San Antonio on Friday with one more chance of qualifying for the playoffs. The winner of that game would then get the top-seeded Phoenix Suns.

“We know them well, they know us well, it’s going to be a tough game before Minnesota,” George said. “We have a job to do. I’m looking forward to leading and being in this environment.

Norman Powell added 20 points off the bench and Ivica Zubac had 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Clippers, who led throughout.

Zubac had his 24th double-double of the season and 60th of his six-year career, but it was the first time he did it at halftime, with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

“Defensively we did a lot of good things, and we were able to try some things with the second unit that should help us going forward,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “We had been trying to get Paul up to 35-36 minutes so we could push his minutes for the play-in tournament.”

Davion Mitchell led Sacramento with 22 points and Trey Lyles had 15.

George had 14 points in the first quarter when the Clippers scored the first nine points. Their biggest first-half lead was 20 points before the Kings went on a late run to close 59-45 at halftime.

Sacramento then scored the first seven points of the second half to cut the margin in half. But the Clippers began to steadily walk away again. They led 19-5 in the last five minutes of the third quarter to lead 92-71 going into the final 12 minutes. Powell had 10 points during the push.

“I didn’t think we started the game the way we should, and from there it was just an uphill battle for the rest of the night,” Kings coach Alvin Gentry said. “They got Paul George and almost their whole team back. It’s a good team and they are fighting for their lives.

Kings: Damian Jones had 12 points and tied a career high in a regular season game with four steals. … Neemias Queta had 10 points off the bench. … Josh Jackson has reached 250 career interceptions.

Clippers: Los Angeles was 21st of 43 on 3-pointers. It’s the third time in the last four games the Clippers have made at least 20 from beyond the arc. … Marcus Morris scored 11 points despite going 4 of 13 from the floor. … Luke Kennard and Isaiah Hartenstein added 10 points each.

Kings: At Phoenix on Sunday night.

Clippers: Host Oklahoma City on Sunday night.

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