CLIPPERS GETTING CLOSER TO FULL STRENGTH
LOS ANGELES – The Clippers have four games spread over 10 days to close out the season.
And while the rest alone may help ready them for the postseason, they are also getting closer to having their full roster intact for the first time since late November.
On Sunday, for the first time since Nov. 27, J.J. Redick was back in the starting lineup alongside Chris Paul. Darren Collison was back on the bench, leading the second unit. Jared Dudley was back to making shots and doing little things that were not made easy when he was playing through right knee tendinitis for the opening three months of the season.
Redick said he’s made progress the last three days, including playing two games and participating in a full practice following a 25-game absence with a debilitating bulging disc in his lower back. Add Jamal Crawford (calf) and Danny Granger (hamstring) sometime in the near future and chances are the Clippers (55-23) may be at their healthiest at the time it matters most.
“It would be a great issue to have because you have to be healthy in the Playoffs to win,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said prior to the Clippers’ 120-97 win over the Lakers Sunday afternoon. “We all know that. When you look at all the teams that have won they had health at the right time. We need health. Not just us, everyone else. It would be a great problem to have. I think we pretty much know the direction we would go in.”
That direction would include using Collison and Crawford together in the backcourt again, something that has not possible with Redick out from Feb. 3 to Apr. 3 and Crawford missing most the last month with a calf injury.
“It’s huge,” Paul said. “And this is the time you kind of have to start doing that because J.J. went down and I went down, so me and [Collison] started for a while and now J.J.’s back. We’re trying to get everybody in the right rhythm because it’s tough to get everybody back right when the Playoffs start.”
Although Rivers again suggested that Crawford and Granger could both sit out until the Clippers open the Playoffs either Saturday, Apr. 19 or Sun. Apr. 20, the Clippers will still be able to reintegrate Redick over the next 10 days before that.
“The great part about it is even if [guys weren’t ready], someone else would be ready to step in,” Rivers said. “Our team, at least, is in a good place in that way. The only concern I have is those guys that don’t play until the Playoffs. You don’t know what the issue is if they’re not playing well and that’s very difficult from a coaching standpoint.”
The Clippers have succeeded at a franchise-record pace even without their full arsenal all season. It’s been role players like Willie Green or Ryan Hollins stepping in one night or highly touted reserves like Crawford or Collison at others.
Collison, who has played 76 of the Clippers’ 78 games, scored 14 points in a shift back to the bench on Sunday. He had started 14 games at shooting guard since Mar. 1, the game after Crawford went down against the Rockets.
“Darren coming off the bench gives another point guard and another scorer off the bench,” Blake Griffin said. “Then when Jamal comes back and Danny comes back it will give us a guy who can score at the point, at the two and the three and we have bigs that can get people open, defend and score down low. Once we get our whole lineup back it completely changes everything.”