PAUL TO RETURN VS. WIZARDS

Chris Paul

LOS ANGELES – He’s back.

After missing the last three games with a bruised right kneecap Clippers point guard Chris Paul will makes his return to the lineup Saturday night against the Washington Wizards.

The decision to start Paul was made after he warmed up at Staples Center prior to the game and Del Negro consulted with Clippers trainer Jasen Powell. It will be Paul’s first game since being named to his sixth All-Star team Thursday.

“He’s definitely better and it’s a bruise,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “If he says he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go.”

The Clippers (31-9) went 3-0 this week on a three-game road trip without Paul, who sustained the injury a week ago in a loss to the Magic at Staples Center. Paul traveled with the team to Memphis, Houston and Minneapolis, and was listed as a game-time decision before tipoff each time. But the team reserved caution with their leader and All-Star starter, electing to hold him out despite gradual improvement in his injured knee as the week progressed.

Youngster Eric Bledsoe, who averaged 11.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.7 steals in three games starting in place of Paul, will return to running the point guard spot for the Clippers’ much-hyped reserve unit.

“Against Memphis and Houston I thought [Bledsoe] did a very good job in a lot of areas,” Del Negro said. “I really liked his pace. His control of the game was good. Then last game he got into foul trouble and really never got into a real good flow.

“But I have a lot of confidence in [Bledsoe] and the guys have a lot of confidence in him. He’s so athletic. When he controls his pace and gets us into things offensively, we know he’s a problem defensively with his athleticism and gets us out in the open court. I think he’s done a good job for us.”

Including three this season, Paul has missed nine games due to injury in his two seasons with the Clippers. The team is 6-3 in those games.

Still, Paul has been instrumental in the Clippers’ franchise-record start. He leads the NBA in steals per game (2.62) and is second behind Rajon Rondo in assists per game (9.7). In his last seven outings, he put in an even greater statistical output than usual. He had 57 combined points in back-to-back games against the Lakers and Warriors earlier in the month and has tallied 16 assists in each of the previous two games.