HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The Los Angeles Clippers’ four-game losing streak isn’t nearly as distressing as the sight of Chris Paul dressed like Cliff Paul on the bench night after night.
CP3, the West All-Star’s starting point guard, missed his sixth game in the last eight — and third in a row — Saturday night. And once again, the Clippers came away with a loss, 101-100, at Portland. It was L.A.’s fourth consecutive defeat and second in a row where Paul’s crunch-time cool was needed against two teams out of the playoff mix.
But really the losses are insignificant compared to the health of Paul’s bruised right kneecap. He injured the knee in the stunning home loss to Orlando on Jan. 12 when he bumped knees with Magic guard J.J. Redick. He missed the next three games, all wins against Memphis, Houston and Minnesota.
Paul returned on Jan. 19 against Washington, going for 22 points and 11 assists in 35 minutes. All seemed right.
But two nights later in the loss to Golden State, the start of four in a row, Paul re-aggravated the injury and hobbled throughout the game, finishing with four points and nine assists in 33 minutes.
He hasn’t played since.
Back on Tuesday, Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro called Paul’s injury a “day-to-day thing.”
“How long, I don’t know,” Del Negro told The Los Angeles Times. “But I don’t want to bring him back and then he’s out again like this time. So we’ll be as cautious as possible and try to work through it.”
The Clippers led 100-91 with 2:38 to go at Portland on Saturday night, but they’d never score again as Portland rattled off the final 10 points of the game. Eric Beldsoe has taken over as the starter with Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford used to help close with Blake Griffin.
“We’ve got to learn with this group without [Paul] to finish games,” Del Negro told reporters after the game. “It was an opportunity for us to finish the game.”
The next one comes tonight in a rare road-home series against the Blazers. Del Negro said after Saturday’s game that Paul is not expected to suit up, saying he’ll have a better idea of when Paul will play once he begins some contact drills.
The sooner the better for the Clippers, who begin a massive, eight-game road trip after tonight’s game. It starts at Minnesota on Wednesday and then takes on a distinctly East flavor including stops at Boston, improving Washington, Miami, New York and Philadelphia.