PAUL ON INJURED HAMSTRING: ‘I’M ALRIGHT’

LOS ANGELES – Perhaps chalk it up to the holidays or the Clippers’ 93-80 victory over the New York Knicks Wednesday, but Chris Paul was in far too good of spirits postgame for his injured right hamstring to be of major concern.

“I’m alright,” Paul insisted. “It’s a little tight, but I’ll be alright. I’ll be ready Friday.”

Paul left Wednesday’s game with 3:21 left in the third quarter, after dishing out his seventh assist on a pick-and-roll bounce pass to Blake Griffin for a right-handed dunk. The Knicks called timeout after the play and Paul pointed in the direction of Clippers trainer Jasen Powell. Paul and Powell walked to the locker room before Paul was officially diagnosed with a strained right hamstring. 

Paul, who had 15 points, five rebounds and two steals in 26:15, re-emerged from the team’s tunnel midway through the fourth quarter and was cleared to return to the game but with the game seemingly in control Rivers said he had no plans of reinserting his superstar point guard.

“[Jasen Powell] said he could come have back but there was no chance that he was coming back in,” Rivers said. “Of course, he [Paul] told me twice already that he’ll be ready for Friday, that doesn’t mean it’s true. That’s just what he said.”

Darren Collison, who started 37 games in place of Paul when the two were teammates in New Orleans in 2009-10, played the entire fourth quarter Wednesday. If Paul is unable to play Friday when the Clippers take on the Sacramento Kings for the third time this month, Collison would start. Jamal Crawford would likely serve as the team’s backup point guard.

“I’ve got to be ready,” Collison said. “At times like this when Chris isn’t all the way healthy, I’ve got to be able to go out there and do my job. I’ve been watching Chris for a very, very long time and seeing how he’s running the offense. And I’m fine with that.”

Paul has been on a tear through the first 16 games of the season. He leads the NBA in assists per game (12.2) and has helped the Clippers to match their best 16-game start since they moved to L.A. 30 years ago. Since being traded to the Clippers prior to the 2011-12 season, Paul has missed 18 games due to injury, including five in Jan. 2012 with a strained left hamstring.

“I know my body well enough now to where if I feel something I’ll look over there at our trainer,” Paul said, “and I’ll say, ‘Get me for a second. Let’s see what’s going on.’

“I went to the back and me and the trainer (Powell) worked on it. I was on the bike watching the game. We came back out and I told Doc [Rivers] if you need me I can go.”

Knowing Paul, he’ll likely say something similar at shoot-around Friday in Sacramento, particularly if his mood is anything like it was after the Clippers beat the Knicks.