COLLISON KEEPS CLIPPERS ROLLING WITHOUT PAUL

Darren Collison has done more than simply fill in for injured superstar Chris Paul. He’s helped the Clippers keep pace with the rest of the West.

They are 4-1 without Paul this season, including winning three in a row last week with Paul sidelined with a separated shoulder. Blake Griffin has played well in the stretch, as has DeAndre Jordan, and others, but it’s been Collison’s seamlessness slotting in as the lead guard has certainly been a major factor.

“I just try to keep it simple,” Collison said. “I know I’m a good defender, so as long as I continue to play good defense and continue to be the head of our defense then anything can happen after that.

“Offensively we’re working fine. J.J. [Redick] moves without the ball so he opens it up for us. Blake’s playing phenomenal. D.J.’s playing great, so I think it’s pretty simple just go in there and move the ball and play off one another.”

In his five games starting in place of Paul this season, Collison has averaged 17.0 points, 5.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals. He is obviously not Paul, and he’s not trying to be him, but Collison has found his own groove.

He’s shooting 66.7 percent since Jan. 1, and missed just 11 of his 41 shots from 2-point range in that span. He scored 20 points or more against the Lakers, Magic and Mavericks and has dished out at least six assists in his four games this month without Paul.

“I had a stretch like this for about two weeks in Dallas, I remember,” Collison said. “It’s just [a matter of] letting the game come to you and picking and choosing your spots.

“You’ve got to continue to pick and choose your spots. Those shots are going to come. For me, as a point guard it’s making sure other guys get touches. I know I can get my touches whenever I can. It’s not forcing the issue and playing within the system.”

Darren Collison

He said prior to Monday’s practice that he is still learning to play with the first unit, a group that saw the return of Redick from a fractured hand and partially torn ligament in his wrist on Friday. Redick’s presence should even further enhance what the Clippers can do in Paul’s absence.

 “I think a lot of what we do is multiple pick-and-rolls, multiple actions, which kind of benefits everybody,” Redick said. “And it benefits your team when you have multiple playmakers, which I think we do, in terms of having a few guards who can make plays besides Chris and Blake for a four man is a great passer and can make plays for others.”

For Collison, much of his job, outside of pressuring opposing point guards defensively, has meant striking a balance between his natural instinct as an aggressive scorer and making plays for others. In the last three games, the Clippers have run an average of 102.5 possessions. Collison has shot or earned free throws on 11.3 of those.

“The [plays] we call [are] almost telling him, ‘That’s an aggressive play. This is a team play,’” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “And I think that’s helped him.”

In turn Collison has invariably helped the Clippers.

TAKE TWO

Most of the Clippers players spent Saturday and Sunday off. Collison getting two scheduled off days and two more days to practice before they play the Mavericks on Wednesday was a nice reprieve from a schedule that had forced the Clippers (26-13) into more games than any other team in the league through Jan. 10.

“I think the recovery is good,” Collison said. “Two days off, gives us a chance to heal our bodies. These last two month’s schedule has been pretty brutal. It was good that we had the last two days off to recover and now we’ve got to get after it in these practices.”

Redick and Matt Barnes were among those who used the time to get in extra work. Redick said he took Saturday off, but he came into the facility with Barnes on Sunday and got extra shots up.