With just a few weeks until the NBA Playoffs start, the Los Angeles Clippers are unsure when they will see Serge Ibaka again. Before the Clippers hosted the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday, head coach Tyronn Lue said that there was no set “potential return date” for Ibaka.
Ty Lue: No “potential return date” for Serge Ibaka.
— Mirjam Swanson (@MirjamSwanson) May 5, 2021
Ibaka, who signed with Los Angeles in the offseason, has not played since March 14 due to lower back tightness. After Monday’s night’s game, he’ll have missed 26 consecutive games due to the injury. For the season, he’s appeared in 39 games — all starts — while averaging 10.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks a night. After Los Angeles faces Toronto, there will be just six games left in the regular season.
In the short term, this could hurt the Clippers’ chances of getting a higher seed in the Western Conference. Prior to the Raptors game, they are four games back of the top-seed Jazz and 3.5 back of the second-seeded Suns. That ties them with the Nuggets, who are off on Monday. If the Clippers end up as the third or fourth seed, they’ll could easily end up playing the Lakers (who do have their own injury concerns) or the Mavericks in round one.
There are also real playoff concerns here. The Clippers have Ivica Zubac as a starter and he’s solid. They also have Demarcus Cousins, who they signed for the rest of the season last week. But Lue hasn’t always trusted Zubac when it matters and Cousins is not what he was at his peak. Ibaka, if he’s right, offers a more mobile center choice than the team’s other options. He also unlocks some five-out units for Lue to turn to. Not having him now hurts and it’ll hurt even more if Ibaka isn’t available or isn’t at 100 percent come the playoffs to support Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.