Clippers Surviving Without Chris Paul
The Los Angeles Clippers have hit upon difficult times, losing All-Star point guard Chris Paul to a knee injury (bone bruise).
While Paul isn’t expected to be out for a significant time, the Clippers have started their eight-game “Grammy trip” without him.
Paul’s injury contributed to a recent four-game losing streak, but the Clippers have since pulled up with two hard-fought wins over the Portland Trail Blazers at STAPLES Center and on Wednesday night in Minnesota against the Timberwolves.
“One down, and seven more to go,” said Caron Butler after the game.
After defeating the Wolves 96-90, the Clippers will travel to Toronto, Boston, Washington, Orlando, Miami, New York and Philadelphia.
“The first game can set the tone for the trip,” said Jamal Crawford. “For us having such a long trip, eight games in 14 days, getting this one out of the way – you can’t win them all unless you win the first one.”
At 34-13, the Clippers are a full 10 games ahead of the ninth-place Portland Trail Blazers with 35 games to play. The postseason is all but a certainty, but the next seven games may impact seeding.
The team’s goal to finish first in the conference is still attainable. With Paul, the Clippers have won 73.7 percent of their games. Without, they’re a still-solid 62.5 percent.
The Clippers are 3 1/2 games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies (29-15). They’re also just one back of the Oklahoma City Thunder (34-11) and 2 1/2 behind the San Antonio Spurs (37-11).
LA will still play Spurs twice after taking the first-two meetings. The Thunder have already won the season series over the Clippers, with one more to play.
Bledsoe growing as a starter
Point guard Eric Bledsoe, now in his third year, started for Paul against the Wolves. He showed the positives and negatives of his game over 39 minutes, dishing 10 assists and grabbing six steals. He also shot just 3-14 and had five turnovers.
Getting Bledsoe this additional time on the court is vital to his development. Through eight starts this season, the Kentucky guard is averaging 11.6 points and 4.8 assists in 32.5 minutes a game while shooting 37.1 percent from the field.
Off the bench, Bledsoe’s output dips to 8.4 points and 2.6 assists in 18.2 minutes but his efficiency as a shooter climbs to 47.1 percent.
There’s plenty of speculation the Clippers might trade Bledsoe this season. Barring an off-the-charts offer, the team is more likely to hold onto him until Paul’s pending free agency is resolved.
The Clippers have every expectation that Paul will re-sign but giving up Bledsoe and losing Paul would leave the team without a primary point guard. Having a bit of a glut at the position is not exactly a liability, especially with Paul’s recent injury.
Bledsoe is under contract for next season at $2.6 million. The team simply has no pressure to move him, yet.
Matt Barnes loses his temper
Matt Barnes was ejected in the second quarter against the Wolves.
Bothered by a screen from Greg Stiemsma, Barnes gave the center a shove and then grabbed him by the neck and pushed. Naturally Barnes was ejected with a flagrant two.
There’s a relatively high probability that a suspension will follow, at least for a game.
If Barnes is suspended, the additional minutes at small forward would probably go to starter Caron Butler and veteran Grant Hill.
Del Negro not quite All-Star coach
Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich was named coach for the Western Conference All-Stars, beating out Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro. The Spurs locked in the best record in the West through February 3.
Scott Brooks, of the Oklahoma City Thunder, was ineligible as coach of last year’s team. The All-Star Game will be played on Feb. 17 at the Toyota Center in Houston.
Paul’s knee troubles may have hurt Del Negro’s chance to coach his first All-Star team. Instead, Popovich will coach the West for a third time.
The Eastern Conference squad will be coached either by Erik Spoelstra of the Miami HEAT (29-13) or Mike Woodson of the New York Knicks (28-15). Tom Thibodeau (Chicago Bulls), who coached last year, is ineligible.