BILLUPS PRACTICES TUESDAY

Chauncey Billups shooting a fadeaway jumper

PLAYA VISTA – For the first time since re-aggravating his right groin injury on Mar. 27, Clippers guard Chauncey Billups was back on the practice court.

Head coach Vinny Del Negro said Billups felt good in the brief workout, which included full-court 5-on-5 activity, but remained unsure if the 36-year-old would be available Wednesday when the Clippers face the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center.

“It’s all about how feels tomorrow,” Del Negro said. “We didn’t go long today, but we went pretty hard for 30-40 minutes and he looked good.

“When [Clippers trainer] Jasen [Powell] tells me he’s ready to go, he’ll be out there.”

With five games remaining in the regular season, it would be ideal to get Billups back soon in order to establish continuity with the playing rotation. But Del Negro, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul all said Tuesday it is more important for Billups to return healthy for a run in the playoffs.

“We definitely want him back as soon as possible, but at the end of the day we want him healthy,” Paul said. “We plan on playing for a while so we want him to be as fresh and healthy as possible. Him coming back for some games gives us more of a rhythm and I think gives us confidence, too.”

The Clippers are 13-7 in the 20 games Billups has started this season and while they have been more successful record-wise with Willie Green starting alongside Paul in the backcourt (31-14), Billups adds a different dimension offensively.

“The way he shoots the ball, end of game, foul shooting, ball handling and I think everybody also around the league almost fears [Chauncey],” Paul said. “In that you know he’s not afraid to take and make big shots.”

Billups’ presence and ability to play point guard also allows Paul to play off the ball more often.

“I’m not dribbling the ball up the court so defenders have to sort of look and figure out where I’m at,” Paul said. “Then I can obviously catch the ball with a live dribble. It just gives the opponent a different dose of something, you know. I’m always in a ball screen pushing the ball up the court, so it’s something a little different.”

What Paul described, tough, has been more theoretical than actual this season.

Billups has been plagued by injuries and setbacks, something he has repeatedly said he expected in his first season back from surgery to repair a torn left Achilles tendon he suffered last February.

He made his season debut on Nov. 28. But his first comeback lasted three games before he was sidelined with peroneal tendinitis in his left foot. After missing 34 games he returned Feb. 8 in Miami and sat out once between then and Mar. 19 due to a sore lower back. Then the original groin strain occurred early in the second quarter in Sacramento and re-emerged a week later.

He’s started 20 games in all, including an 11-minute stint in New Orleans two weeks ago before walking gingerly to the locker room, his groin acting up again. According to Griffin, the on-court chemistry with Billups, even though he’s been in, and mostly out, of the lineup, remains strong.  

“You’d love to have everybody play a little bit just to kind of get in that rhythm and that feel back,” Griffin said. “But I said this when we were waiting for him to come back from his Achilles, he’s the kind of the least of my worries when it comes to somebody who’s going to be able to come in and contribute. Whether he’s scoring or not, his presence out there is an advantage for us.”

“Him being out there and him being available I think is more important than maybe him having his real rhythm coming back for one or two games. But we’d love to have him before that, obviously.”