Caron Butler
Caron Butler had 15 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals before injuring his elbow against Detroit on Mar. 10.

PLAYA VISTA – Caron Butler, who is nursing a left elbow strain, returned to practice Friday morning and sounds optimistic he will play Sunday when the Clippers face the New York Knicks in ABC’s national NBA showcase.

“I feel like it’s going to be a strong possibility that I play Sunday,” Butler said. “I’m feeling better every day and every treatment session. I’ve been coming in every night, getting shots up and getting the motion and strength back, so I feel really good.”

The small forward, who has started all 62 games he’s appeared in this season, sustained the elbow injury in the third quarter of the Clippers’ 32-point win over the Pistons on March 10 and did not play Wednesday against the Grizzlies.

“It’s a lot better,” Butler said. “I’ve got more mobility, full extension now. It’s a little sore.”

Butler got tangled up with Pistons forward Kyle Singler and a few second later hunched over as his left arm dangled towards the floor. After the Clippers called timeout he jogged to the locker room with Assistant Trainer Joe Resendez trailing close behind.

“It spazzed up and I lost full extension and feeling from my elbow on down,” Butler said. “I couldn’t extend my elbow and it was extremely painful, so I left the court and went in the back, took some X-rays, didn’t see any damage, and the MRI didn’t [show] any damage. I was making sure I didn’t have a tear because that’s what it felt like.

“I was so worried,” he continued. “I really couldn’t sleep. Ryan Hollins had texted me at like 2 o’clock in the morning and Chris [Paul] was texting and staying on top of it. I was extremely worried, but once I came in and got the results, myself and my teammates were relieved and it felt good to be back on the court today.”

Butler wore a protective sleeve over his elbow Friday, but participated in all facets of practice, which lasted nearly two hours and included several full-contact activities.

Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said afterwards that Butler will continue to be monitored before a final decision is made about his playing status Sunday. “I want to see how he feels tomorrow in practice and then we’ll make that decision before the game. I want to make sure he’s confident in his movement out there and that there’s no setback after today and tomorrow’s practice.”

Butler has been one of the Clippers’ most consistent rotation players of late. He’s topped 11 points in eight of the last 11 games he’s played, including making 20 3-pointers in that stretch. He had 15 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals against the Pistons before going down.

The original prognosis had Butler missing “about a week,” according to Del Negro, but as he has several times throughout his career, Butler returned sooner than expected.

“He was almost a go the other day [against Memphis], but we wanted to get him a practice,” Del Negro said. “He’s got some stiffness and soreness there, but hopefully every day he’ll feel better.”

Blake Griffin, who was Butler’s teammate last season when he returned to lineup after one missing one game with a broken left hand, said a potential quick return from Butler comes as no surprise.

“I heard he couldn’t even straighten his arm out for a couple of days and he finally got that back and now he’s back out there,” Blake Griffin said. “We’ve pretty much come to expect that from Caron.”