REGULAR-SEASON TEAMMATES WON’T DICTATE ROTATION FOR BROOKS

NEW ORLEANS – They are not starting together in Sunday’s All-Star Game, but Blake Griffin and Chris Paul will likely share the court together for quite a few stretches.

Griffin, who was voted in as a starter for the third consecutive year, and Paul are one of three pairs of teammates on the Western Conference roster. The Clippers are one of five teams overall in the game that are represented by multiple players including the Heat, Pacers, Rockets and Trail Blazers. 

West head coach Scott Brooks said while he recognizes the chemistry regular-season teammates have together he will not necessarily let it dictate Sunday’s playing rotation.

“I think it’s going to come down to maybe they will get a few minutes together, but I don’t I’m going to try to manipulate the game,” Brooks said. “Obviously, they have some chemistry. But a lot of these guys they play in the summer in pickup games and have been multiple All-Stars so they kind of have a relationship. And Team USA has been an incredible vehicle for all of these guys to get to know each other and play and get better against each other.”

"I think this year, as it should be, we’re closer than ever. I’m excited about continuing that.” - Blake Griffin on his relationship with All-Star teammate Chris Paul.

On Friday Brooks named former Thunder reserve and Rockets two-time All-Star James Harden the replacement starter for injured guard Kobe Bryant, who is out with a fractured knee. Harden’s insertion next to Stephen Curry in the West backcourt meant Paul, the reigning All-Star MVP, would come off the bench.

During the West’s brief practice Saturday at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Paul, wearing a black practice jersey, was introduced second to last as the on-court announcer seemingly went down the 12-man roster in order of popularity. Leading MVP candidate and league-leader in points per game, Kevin Durant was the final play introduced as the West took the floor in front of hundreds of fans in a makeshift arena within the NBA’s Jam Session.

Afterwards Griffin talked about playing for a third year in a row with Paul as an All-Star teammate.   

“Every year is totally different,” Griffin said. “You build that relationship, you build a trust. You have a mutual respect about what each other is going through, an understanding. I think this year, as it should be, we’re closer than ever. I’m excited about continuing that.”

He also sounded excited about the limitless possibilities of what could happen on the court with Paul at Smoothie King Center a day later, including potentially returning the favor for the endless supply of lobs Paul has thrown his way in three years with the Clippers.

“We might talk about a move here and there, but nothing really in detail because you never know what the game gives you,” Griffin said. “We’ll probably talk about if we have a 2-on-1 fast break or a 2-on-0 fast break what we’re going to do. I’ll probably throw him a lob or something like that.”

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Brooks said the hardest part of coaching 12 of the world’s best players is navigating the minutes load. He talked to several of his fellow coaches about any restrictions on players, including San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich regarding Tony Parker. He said he will also consult with Paul, who returned last week from an 18-game absence after separating his right shoulder on Jan. 3, and others, on Sunday prior to the game.

“I will talk to all of the players to see what they’re feeling,” Brooks said. “When you play 45-50 NBA games you’re going to be banged up. We’re not going to put them out there if it’s going to jeopardize the rest of the season. I’m going to talk to all of the guys and see how they feel and try to get the minutes as close as I can get them. Obviously, the starters are the starters and they were voted in so they’re going to get the first crack at heavy minutes.”

But when it comes to “winning time,” as Paul might say, coaches of past All-Star teams have typically put in the five players they thought could most help them win, regardless of whether or not they were voted in. In that case it would not be surprising to see Paul and Griffin alongside each other in the fourth quarter Sunday. The fact that they’re teammates back home only aids that cause.