CLIPPERS AT FULL STRENGTH AGAINST THE HEAT
MIAMI – The gang’s all here.
For the first time this season, the Clippers (35-16) will have every member of their rotation available. The group projected in the preseason to be one of the deepest in the league.
Chris Paul (bruised right kneecap), Blake Griffin (strained left hamstring) and Chauncey Billups (peroneal tendinitis in his left foot) will start alongside DeAndre Jordan and Caron Butler Friday night against the defending champion Miami Heat.
Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford, who missed Wednesday’s game in Orlando with a sore right shoulder, will be back as well.
“Everybody’s going,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said during his pregame meeting with the media. “There are guys with limited minutes and restrictions. We’re trying to figure all of that out right now because it’s a long list, but we’ll get it going a little tonight.
“We’ll just monitor them. We had a good practice yesterday and guys feel like they can give us something. How much? I’m not sure yet.”
Del Negro said he will miss with Trainer Jasen Powell after the players warm up to see exactly what kind of minutes restrictions may be factored in.
The Clippers are 13-3 in the last two seasons when Friday’s starting five has played together. It was something that has been a long time coming this season, though.
“It was extremely fun yesterday having everybody on roster on the floor for the first time,” Butler said. “I think just the urgency and the basketball IQ and disposition and everything went to a whole different level.”
Billups missed all but three games, last playing Dec. 3 after being shut down with peroneal tendinitis in his left foot. Paul has missed 12 of the last 14 and Griffin sat out the last two.
When Billups originally came back from a torn Achilles tendon on Nov. 28, Grant Hill was inactive due to a bone bruise in his right knee. Hill missed the first 36 games of the season. Paul was injured on Dec. 12, the day Hill made his team debut.
The Clippers are 10-10 since Jan. 1, when they were fresh off a 17-game winning streak and owned the best record in the league. A significant portion of that stretch has come with their stars shuffling in and out of the lineup. But as the roster reemerges at full strength, Del Negro expects it to take some time to regain their early-season chemistry.
“We’re just trying to piece it all together a little bit,” Del Negro said. “The trust and the chemistry and the play sets. We’re just coming off not having guys for a few games and now the rotations change and the guys who were playing a lot aren’t playing as much. It’s just kind of about making that all work a little bit. It’s about getting some kind of consistency there and we can only do that if we stay healthy.”