COLLISON MAKES TRIUMPHANT RETURN TO DALLAS

DALLAS – A year ago at this time Darren Collison was beginning to see his playing time diminish. He started some nights and would remain pinned to the bench another.

Collison’s first, and only, season with the Dallas Mavericks did not go as he had hoped. He missed out on the Playoffs for the second time as a professional and despite putting up numbers that were comparable to his previous three seasons in the league the 26-year-old point guard used his first chance at unrestricted free agency this summer to move on.

On Friday, in a 119-112 come-from-behind victory, Collison played his first game against Dallas since he left, scoring a season-high 20 points to spark the Clippers without Chris Paul, who suffered a right shoulder sprain in the third quarter.

Collison made six of his 10 shots and went 8-for-8 from the foul line. Most importantly, perhaps, he stayed on the court for nearly 19 consecutive minutes of game action once Paul went out.

In the early going, when the Mavericks were rolling off points seemingly at will, Collison helped keep the Clippers close, matching Paul with eight points in the first quarter.

“Darren was terrific tonight and he kept being aggressive,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “He has great speed and pace and he has a big heart. That’s what we needed tonight. I thought his defense was huge for us as well.”

Collison has played well of late. He’s scored 15 or more points four times, including Friday, since Nov. 29 and is 9-for-13 from the floor in his first two games of the New Year. Now, he is forced into a starting role in place of Paul.

The team expects their superstar point guard to miss at least 3-5 weeks, meaning Collison will pick up where he left off four years ago in New Orleans when he started 37 times with Paul out with a meniscus injury.

“It changes for everybody,” Collison said of what Paul’s injury does to the team. I’ve got to step up, play big, play my role and just keep things simple.”

Keeping things simple was hard to do for Collison a year ago in Dallas, though. He said a number of things contributed to what he considered a down year, but most of all missing out on the postseason stung the most.

“There were a lot of things that went on last year,” Collison said. “I think I was hurt, one, that we didn’t get a chance to make it to the Playoffs. That hurt me the most. I took a lot of pride in trying to run this team the best way I could. Dirk [Nowitzki] was out for 20-something games. We had a lot of dudes that were on one-year deals trying to mesh stuff together.”

He signed as a free agent with the Clippers in July, effectively filling the role left behind when Eric Bledsoe was traded to the Suns. He said he doesn’t hold anything against the Mavericks, calling them a “great organization” but is happy to be in Los Angeles, his hometown.

“They had their situation and I’m just glad that I fell into a situation like the Clippers,” he said, “that gives me an opportunity and have a chance to play with a contending team that is hopefully going somewhere real special.“