Taking on the defending NBA champions … facing their roster of stars … and their Doberman defense … in their building … on national television … coming off an injury … for a team that’s staggering. Nope, those would not be ingredients of any formula for turning a smile upside down for most basketball players.
But Chris Paul, point guard and MIA MVP candidate for the Los Angeles Clippers, can think of nowhere he’d rather be Friday night than facing the grueling challenge of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the Heat in Miami on ESPN (8 p.m. ET). Paul has missed 12 of the Clippers’ past 14 games with a bruised right knee, sitting helplessly by as they’ve gone 6-6 in his absences – 3-6 most recently.
Listed day-to-day on the Clippers’ rather lengthy injured list – with Blake Griffin (hamstring), Jamal Crawford (shoulder) and Chauncey Billups (foot) – Paul was hoping to play in this one. Hey, it’s what he does – or pines to do when on the pine – as told to Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:
“Anybody who knows me knows I’ve been miserable the past however many games I’ve been out,” Paul said while sitting in a black leather courtside seat inside the Heat’s arena, a bag of ice wrapped around each knee. “Like, seriously. This is my life. This is what I love to do. This is my happy place and when I don’t get a chance to play, I can be a very bitter person.”
Join the Clippers’ club, Chris. Over the past nine games without Paul, L.A. has seen its offense swoon; it has averaged 92.2 points compared to 101.8 prior to the 3-6 stretch, with drops across the board in shooting percentages, steals and assists. As a result, instead of outscoring teams by an average of 8.4 ppg, it has been running a deficit of 2.7 ppg.
How a club does when a star player is absent sometimes is a criterion used in MVP assessments. But it’s a lousy one to endure, both for the team and for the guy who’s out.
Paul has coped with injuries before, so he knows the downside of coming back too soon. After Sunday, the Clippers have two sets of back-to-backs before All-Star weekend and their point guard has obligations for that in Houston. Discretion might suggest extra rest, but it’s facing a formidable opponent in Paul.
“I just need to play,” he said. “I’m very impatient. Very impatient. And I know that about myself. I’d do anything to get back on the court.”