RIVERS: PAUL "LOOKED GREAT," PLANS TO PLAY HIM SUNDAY
PLAYA VISTA – Chris Paul's return to the lineup may be imminent.
After missing the past 18 games, Paul is expected to play Sunday against the Philadelphia 76ers, according to Head Coach Doc Rivers.
Prior to the Clippers practice Saturday, Rivers said there was a “50-50” chance Paul would suit up against Philadelphia, but following the workout he re-assessed the situtuion.
"He looked great [in practice]," Rivers said. "We plan on playing him."
The Clippers did not undergo a great deal of full-contact activity Saturday, but Rivers said they did "some 3-on-3 stuff just to try and get him out."
Paul was originally injured on Jan. 3 when he landed awkwardly on his right shoulder against the Dallas Mavericks. Rivers said Paul was pining to play within a week of being hurt.
“That’s what players think and you want players like that,” Rivers said. “They’re delusional sometimes, in a good way, in a very good way.”
The Clippers (35-18) have two more games before the All-Star break and Rivers preferred to have Paul available for both of them.
“I think it’s going to take time for Chris to get his rhythm back,” Rivers said. “So, that’s why I’m hoping he is healthy and we can play him Sunday, have a practice on Tuesday and play him Wednesday. But I think it’s going to take a couple of weeks for him to get his rhythm back.”
The Clippers found their stride despite missing their perennial All-Star and MVP candidate. They went 12-6 with Darren Collison starting in place of Paul and moved to within a game and a half of the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. Collison has averaged 13.3 points, 6.5 assists and shot 47.4 percent from the floor, all the while playing a bulk of the point guard minutes and suffering a sprained big toe in late January.
Collison’s play coupled with Blake Griffin’s 27.5 points per game and a huge scoring outburst from Jamal Crawford over the past three weeks have lifted the Clippers, but Paul’s forthcoming return is a good problem to have, according to Griffin.
“It’s a great problem,” Griffin said. “To add in your best playmaker, captain and leader back to your team is amazing.”
Griffin and Crawford have been the focal points of a Clippers’ offense that in 18 games has been the second most efficient group in the league, averaging 112.1 points per 100 possessions.
“We are clearly a better team when we play at that pace,” Rivers said. “Again, it’s not running up and down. It’s just movement and it’s constant pace. It’s harder to do right now at times without Chris because we only have one point guard and there are times he can’t do it anymore. But when Chris comes back and you have D.C. (Collison) and Chris I think we can have a 48-minute game at that pace and I think it will bode well for us later.”
There may be slight adjustments to having Paul back in the lineup: Griffin becoming less of a play-maker, Crawford returning to more of a spot-up shooting role and Collison returning to a reserve role. But Crawford thinks it will be a smooth transition back to running the offense through Paul, who leads the NBA with 11.2 assists per game.
“There’s definitely going to be an adjustment and I guess that’s something we’re going to have to figure out,” Crawford said. “Obviously, Chris is a guy who has the ball in his hands a lot for good reason. He’s the best point guard in the NBA. We’ll just have to see how it goes, but when you have guys that are good character guys it usually finds a way to work itself out.”
Asked where the team has missed Paul, Rivers pointed to the fourth quarter of close games and the way the Clippers have played against the league’s elite teams. In the 18 games Paul has missed, three of the six losses have come against the Spurs, Pacers and Heat, who are among the NBA’s four best records.
“We’ve had a nice run, but let’s be honest against the good teams we haven’t without Chris, so [getting him back] helps,” Rivers said. “And then down the stretch of games it really helps. If you want to look at where we miss Chris, those would be the two areas. And those are easy to get back.”
REDICK, TURKOGLU DAY-TO-DAY
Shooting guard J.J. Redick (sore right hip) and forward Hedo Turkoglu (right knee contusion) are both listed as day-to-day heading into Sunday’s game. Both players were at the training center Saturday.
Rivers said he does not know if either one of them will play against the Sixers.
“I personally don’t expect J.J. tomorrow,” Rivers said. “I know he told me yesterday that he was playing on Sunday but I just saw him walk down the hallway leaving the arena and I don’t see him playing tomorrow. That’s my opinion.”
Redick has missed the past two games with the hip injury as well as a sore right shoulder and bruised left knee. He had played 13 consecutive games since returning from a fractured right hand and partially torn ligament in his wrist on Jan. 10. Turkoglu sustained his knee injury in the first half of the Clippers’ 116-112 loss to the Heat on Wednesday. He did not play Friday against the Raptors.