Injury Update: Paul Medically Cleared, Could Return This Week
LOS ANGELES – Injured point guard Chris Paul could return as soon as Thursday against the Warriors, as he appears ahead of schedule on his initial recovery timetable of six to eight weeks.
Paul, who underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb Jan. 18, was back on the practice court Tuesday and Wednesday, just five weeks after the injury.
“He could play tomorrow,” head coach Doc Rivers said before Wednesday’s practice. “I can’t tell you if he will or not, but he’s been cleared medically. We just want to make sure that he’s comfortable playing.”
The Clippers return from the All-Star break on a hot streak, having won each of their last four games, but it didn’t start that way after losing Paul to his injury Jan. 16 against the Thunder.
They went on to lose four of their next five games to close out January, and that skid continued into February, as the Clippers lost seven of their first nine games without Paul before bouncing back with four straight wins.
Now back from the All-Star break, there’s no easing in, starting a back-to-back Thursday on the road at Golden State before returning home a night later to host San Antonio. It’s at least possible Paul is back for either one of those games against the West’s top two teams, but the Clippers won’t rush him back until he feels comfortable and ready.
“We could be playing anybody,” Rivers said. “Obviously, you want your best players on the floor, and whenever that happens, it happens. I’m not going to rush it. If Chris says he’s not comfortable, I’m not going to play him (just) because we’re playing Golden State. It’s not worth it. You don’t win anything tomorrow, and I get that 100 percent.”
Still, signs were encouraging during a Tuesday practice Rivers said Paul “looked great” in, participating the entire time and looking more and more aggressive as they continued.
Pressed with questions about how he’s feeling and when he’ll return, Paul continued to utter the phrase “it’s getting better,” noncommittal on a specific date he’ll be back on the court. But Paul, who’s averaging 17.5 points, 9.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game this year, is at least on the right path to an earlier return than initially expected.
One thing Paul made clear: He won’t return just because of the talent of his upcoming competitors, and he won’t risk hurting the team by rushing back.
“When I’m ready and able to play, trust me, I will,” Paul said. “The guys will hold it down until then.”
Overall, the Clippers are 6-7 since losing Paul to his thumb injury. Including the seven games he missed earlier this season with a hamstring injury, the Clippers are 8-12 in games without Paul this year and 3-7 in games without both Paul and Blake Griffin.
They demonstrated early in the year what they can look like when the starting lineup’s healthy, and with Griffin back from knee surgery and rolling in February – averaging 25.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game this month – and Paul on the mend, the arrow’s suddenly pointing up for the Clippers, who still find themselves in fourth place in the Western Conference despite Paul and Griffin each missing 20 games this year.
In Paul’s mind, the key to maintaining that level of play and building on a four-game winning streak is clear.
“We played well toward the end of that road trip, and it was just our defense,” Paul said. “I was in constant communication with Blake and the guys, same thing we talked about at the beginning of the season: If we defend, we control our own destiny.”