Bledsoe Makes Solid Return in D-League Stint
Matthew Martz | 1/26/12

BAKERSFIELD, January 26, 2012 –Eric Bledsoe ran through Thursday's shootaround like he had done hundreds of times before. Only this time, he wasn’t preparing for just any basketball game.

Bledsoe, was getting ready to begin his comeback to the NBA with a two-game injury rehab assignment starting against the Los Angeles D-Fenders, in his debut with the Bakersfield Jam, the Clippers’ D-League affiliate.

It's been a tough stretch for the 22-year-old, who after appearing in 81 games with the Clippers last season, has missed the entire 2011 campaign, recovering from surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee.

However, in his first game back , the second-year point guard looked better than ever, tearing through defenders with his explosive brand of play, coming off the bench to register 15 points and a team-high 7 assists in nearly 19 minutes, to help lift Bakersfield to a 106–97 win over Los Angeles.

A touch better than last season's line of 7 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.1 steals in 22.7 minutes per game.

"It felt really good to be able to come out, play basketball, and help the team get a win," said Bledsoe who hasn't competed in a full court game since last season.

"I am really excited about getting back to the Clippers, and this is the first step."

Originally expected to be out for just 6-8 weeks, Bledsoe's delayed return cost him a golden opportunity for playing time earlier this season, when he could have picked up valuable minutes in place of an injured Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, and Mo Williams.

"Sitting and watching is a big problem for me because I like to compete," said Bledsoe, "Not being able to play during that stretch was really hard for me."

"It would have been great thing for me to come in a fill that void."

Even so, when Bledsoe does finally return to the Clippers bench, he'll likely be buried in a crowded backcourt, but that doesn't seem to bother this up-and-coming youngster.

"I'm just really excited to get back, we have a great team and just want to come in and be focused whether I play or not," he said, "Everyone can see I play with a lot of intensity, and I'm ready to get back out there and compete in an NBA game."

With that type of determination, Bledsoe didn't look like a player worried about injuries during Thursday's contest in Bakersfield, driving to the rack on several occasions, including a powerful reverse layup just seconds after entering the game at the six-minute mark of the first period.

From there, Bledsoe went to work taking command of the floor, dishing out assist after assist, hooking up with Osiris Eldridge on back-back three's in the second, before draining one of his own from well behind the arc to give the Jam a 46-44 lead.

In the third, another drive to the hole extended Bakersfield's lead to 10, before exiting the game with just over four minutes to play, after serving up an assist to Juan Pattillo who buried it with a two-handed jam.

While playing in front of hundreds in a small arena in Bakersfield is a far-cry from playing in NBA arenas in front of thousands of fervent, screaming fans, Clippers player development assistant Howard Eisley said he was encouraged by Bledsoe's first appearance in the NBA Developmental League. But also hinted that he shouldn’t get too comfortable, as his D-League spell won't last long before possibly rejoining the Clippers in Denver this Sunday, providing that there are no complications or setbacks with his knee.

"I think Eric played really well tonight seeing this is his first time playing since last April," said Eisley, "He got a little winded as the game went on, but I think he made good decisions with the ball while getting his explosion back.

"We 're just happy to see him getting back on the floor and being able to play while not worry about his knee."

Bledsoe is expected to finish up his two-game stint with Bakersfield by suiting up tomorrow night versus the Canton Charge at the Jam Events Center at 7 p.m. PT.