Eric Patten (@ericpatten) | 5/5/12

LOS ANGELES–Caron Butler will start Game 3 for the Clippers.

The small forward, who is aptly nicknamed “Tough Juice,” fractured the fifth metacarpal in his left hand Sunday when he got his hand tangled in Rudy Gay’s jersey during the third quarter. He was originally expected to miss 4-6 weeks.

However, after sitting out Game 2 in Memphis, he was evaluated Thursday by a hand specialist in Los Angeles. A day later, according to head coach Vinny Del Negro, Butler shot the ball and “went through some stuff” during practice at the team’s facility.

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“We got a good report yesterday [from the hand specialist]; as good as you can expect,” Del Negro said Friday. “Caron’s a tough guy. He’s a battler, but we also want to be smart about it.

“It was good to see him out there. I think it gives the guys a good boost. He’s such a big part of our team and I give him a lot of credit for even being out there.”

Del Negro said Butler will wear a special pad to protect the injury.

The 32-year-old, two-time All-Star missed the final half of last season with a ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee but was an integral part of the Dallas Mavericks championship run despite not playing after January 1. Missing out on the playoffs again seemed likely after the original diagnosis Sunday.

Veteran forward Bobby Simmons started in place of Butler in Game 2, scoring nine points in 22 minutes. Butler scored 12 in Game 1, but was dressed in a suit on the sideline by the time the Clippers began their historic fourth-quarter rally.

Del Negro said he felt “terrible” for Butler following Game 1. But Butler’s return less than a week later could provide an emotional lift for a Clippers team seeking to win just their second playoff series since moving to Los Angeles in 1984.

“It says a lot about him [Butler],” guard Randy Foye said. “He had a horrible knee injury last year and he came back off of that and played almost every game this year. He broke his hand, now he’s trying to fight and come back. He’s a tough guy and he’s smart. He’s a veteran and he’s been through the wars and battles and that’s a guy that we need out there.”


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