Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers face a tough task on the road against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
That task just got a bit easier.
Paul George, a legitimate MVP contender and Oklahoma City's leading scorer, will not play.
Paul George is out tonight against the 76ers (right shoulder soreness).- Royce Young (@royceyoung) February 28, 2019
With George out of the lineup, here's how it impacts the marquee matchup.
MORE: Paul George enters the MVP race
Expect a big night from Russell Westbrook
George has only missed one game this season, back on December 28 against the Phoenix Suns. Westbrook showed up in a big way, finishing with 40 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. He saved his best for last, scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter to help turn a three-point deficit into a resounding 16-point Thunder win.
George missed three games last season with Westbrook once again stepping up. Here's how Westbrook has performed in the four games that PG13 has missed since the two became teammates:
- December 28, 2018: 40 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists in win over Suns
- December 29, 2017: 40 points, 14 rebounds, 9 assists in loss to Bucks
- December 9, 2017: 20 points, 11 rebounds, 14 assists in OT win over Grizzlies
- December 7, 2017: 31 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists in loss to Nets
In the 333 minutes that Westbrook has played without George on the floor alongside him this season, the Thunder have been outscored by 7.4 points per 100 possessions. In that time, Westbrook has averaged 26.5 points, 11.4 rebounds and 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes.
So while it's reasonable to expect a big performance from Westbrook, the data points to a Thunder team that could struggle without its MVP candidate on the floor.
Recent fireworks between new rivals?
Let's get this out of the way first: the Thunder and 76ers are not rivals in the traditional sense.
That said, the most recent meetings have featured playoff-level intensity with games going down to the wire.
In the first meeting of the season back in January, Jimmy Butler stole the ball and hit the go-ahead shot with six seconds left only for George to immediately respond with a game-winning four-point play on the other end.
Last year in Philadelphia, the teams battled into a triple-overtime in what may have been the best game of the 2017-18 season.
The absence of George certinly takes some edge off what's been a furious head-to-head series over the last two seasons.
Ben Simmons vs Russell Westbrook
With no George, the focus shifts to the matchup between Westbrook and Simmons.
The former MVP has gotten the better of Simmons thus far, winning all three of their head-to-head matchups.
Regardless of the status of George, there promises to be plenty of intrigue in a game featuring two of the most dynamic playmakers in the league not to mention the matchup of giants Joel Embiid and Steven Adams.