Star point guard Chris Paul, who’s missed five consecutive games with a strained left hamstring, practiced at full speed for the first time since sustaining the injury Saturday, Jan. 14 against the Lakers. Still, Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro and the team’s training staff remains cautiously optimistic that Paul will be ready to play Wednesday as the team faces the Lakers again, this time as the visiting team.
“We’ll see how he feels tomorrow morning after shoot-around and really before the game after he really warms up,” Del Negro said. “It was a good sign to see him out there today. He’s been building up to it, but I want to see if there are any setbacks or any issues and make sure we go through all of the proper procedure with all of the doctors and trainers and everything.”
“They’ve been trying to protect me from myself,” he added. “I’ve been wanting to go for a while, but the team has been unbelievable, knowing what’s in my best interest.”
The Clippers (9-5) went 6-3 with Paul in the lineup, including home wins over Portland, Miami, and the Lakers. Through Monday’s games, Paul is seventh in the NBA in assists (8.4 per game) and is tops in steals (2.78).
If Paul suits up Wednesday, the expectation is that he will be on a minutes limit to help ease him back into game action.
“I think he is [ready],” Del Negro said. “It’s the first time he’s practiced in a while, so I want to see how he feels tomorrow; if there’s any swelling, any issues, any discomfort, if there’s any question at all that has to be evaluated.”
Related: January 14, 2012: Postgame Recap: Clippers 102, Lakers 94
Clippers reserve guard Mo Williams has been on a scoring tear of late. He’s scored 25 points or more in three straight games, including 17 points in a row during the fourth quarter Sunday. He finished with a game-high 26. The third time in as many games Williams has led the Clippers in scoring. He’s the first player in the league since Nate Robinson to score 25-plus points off the bench in that span and he’s one of two Clippers players to accomplish the feat (rookie forward Michael Brooks in 1980).
Call it a Sixth Man of the Year candidacy officially submitted.
After practice Clippers power forward Blake Griffin said Williams has been “unbelievable.”
“The way he’s come off the bench, he’s really embraced that role,” Griffin said. “You can tell when he gets on the court he always brings energy and that’s what we love. The obvious thing is the scoring, and he brings that, but his energy and his hustle on defense is huge for us.”
With Paul working his way back in the lineup, Del Negro said that it will crucial for the team to continue to find shots and minutes for his do-it-all sub.
Related: Williams' Return
Second-year point guard Eric Bledsoe, who has been out since October while recovering from surgery on a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee, practiced today.
He is continuing to work toward a return in early February and according to Del Negro, Bledsoe may spend some time in the Development League with the Bakersfield Jam.
“We’re talking about seeing if he can maybe go down and play a couple of games in the D-League and give him some experience in terms of just getting his mind right,” Del Negro said. “He was out practicing today for the first time in a while. We just got to build it [his knee] up. We want to be smart about his injury and he needs some game minutes under his belt before we throw him back out there.”
Related: Bledsoe Injury