The Los Angeles Clippers have gone 12-6 since Jan. 3, the night their star point guard injured his right shoulder. Chris Paul will return to the Staples Center hardwood Sunday night, as the Clippers take on the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Clippers were able to stay afloat without Paul thanks to the emergence of Blake Griffin. Since Paul’s absence, Griffin has averaged 27.5 points per game. He is getting better defensively and shooting a career best 70 percent from the free throw line. If Griffin continues to be aggressive on the offensive end and dominant on the defensive end, the Clippers will make a run for the top seed in the Western Conference.
As great as Griffin has been the past five weeks, he hasn’t been alone. Jamal Crawford is averaging 18.4 points per game this season, his highest average in the last four years. He has taken over the scoring load and is making a strong case for his second Sixth Man of the Year award. If Crawford stays hot through the end of the season and the playoffs, the Clippers could find themselves in the NBA Finals.
Although the Clippers have been playing well without Paul, they struggled against the top teams in the league. The Clippers went 9-2 against teams with losing records and 3-4 against teams with winning records. His presence was sorely missed in the fourth quarter and late in games, as the Clippers lost several close contests. With Paul back, the Clippers will play better against the elite teams and win more of the close games.
Paul’s return couldn’t have come at a better time. The Clippers face the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers before heading in to the All-Star break. Paul and Griffin will head to New Orleans for the NBA All-Star game, but the Clippers can’t be in vacation mode for too long; their first game back is against the San Antonio Spurs. The Clippers just hope Paul will be back to his usual self sooner rather than later.