BILLUPS READY TO GO FOR GAME 1
PLAYA VISTA – Chauncey Billups spent last season’s dramatic playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies sitting on next to the coaching staff in a suit.
His rehabilitation and recovery from a torn left Achilles tendon was about two months underway and it would be another eight before he was back on the court.
“I’m just excited to be out there and not have to watch, sitting in a suit,” Billups said after Friday’s practice. “It’s great for me. Obviously, I felt like I could help the team last year in the playoffs and this year I’ll have that opportunity. So, I’m just excited, really, to be back at it.”
After playing in 22 games this year due to a variety of ailments, including returning Tuesday from an eight-game absence with a strained right groin, Billups says he’s feeling healthy heading into Saturday’s Game 1 of what’s expected to be a lengthy first-round playoff series.
“I’m good,” Billups said. “I’m fine. I’m ready to go.
“I really would have liked to play the last four weeks. But I’m excited just to be back out here. Just to be playing. However, I can help the team I will. Whatever they need me to do, I will. I think that a lot of my experiences can help.”
The experiences helped last year, but Billups can obviously help more on the court. His return to the lineup as well as a valuable bench led by Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes are some of the reasons Chris Paul thinks the 2013 playoff entry for the Clippers is better than a year ago.
“I definitely think we’re better,” Paul said. “We’re a lot healthier than we were last season because last season was such a rigorous season. And it’s great to have Chauncey back.”
The 2004 Finals MVP scored 17 points in Wednesday’s regular-season finale, including going 3-for-6 from 3-point range and making four free throws down the stretch to ice the game in Sacramento. Both Paul and Billups said it was nice to get back into a rhythm together before the lights go on Saturday, but at the same time Billups could handle being thrust into the lineup at any time.
In fact, it’s something he’s had to do most of this season. He missed the first 14 games while rehabbing from the Achilles injury, played in three, missed 34 (foot), played in two, missed one (back), played 13 more, missed three (groin), played 13 minutes in the next game and sat out eight more before returning this week.
He missed 60 games in all, but still, Paul says, “Chauncey is one of those guys whether he’s in the game or out of the game, once he comes back it’s like he never left.”
Moving forward in the playoffs, Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro will continue to monitor Billups.
“He’ll be limited,” Del Negro said. “Somewhere in the 20s [minutes], I don’t know where exactly yet. We’ll make that decision tomorrow. He felt good after back-to-back games and practiced today, no setbacks.”
GRIFFIN’S BACK FEELING ‘BETTER’
Blake Griffin experienced back spasms in Wednesday’s game against the Kings, but practiced Friday.
“Blake’s back tightened up a little bit but he feels better,” Del Negro said. “He practiced today. He’s feeling better which is good.”
Griffin made two key baskets down the stretch of the win in Sacramento, playing through visible pain. But said he’s feeling “better.”
“It’s alright,” Griffin said. “I got a lot of work on it yesterday and I’m about to go right now to get it worked on. It should be fine.”
“It’s still a little tender, I guess, for lack of a better word, but not bad. It’s not as bad as the other night.”
Last season, the three-time All-Star was bothered by a hyper-flexed knee and various other ailments in the postseason, but when asked how this injury compared to the way he was feeling in 2012, he said it’s not much of a comparison at all.
“This isn’t really comparable to last year,” Griffin said. “To be honest, last year was year was a lot different, so I’m just happy to be mostly healthy going into this playoff run.”