PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — NBA teams rarely coast through the regular season unharmed by the injury bug. It’s just a part of the game. But for a Clippers team that has had 12 of its players miss a total of 156 games – one of the few championship caliber teams in the top 10 of games missed due to injury – the only consistent element this season has been the roster’s inability to be healthy all at once.
After 79 games of players being in and out of the lineup, the Clippers are finally getting all their firepower locked and loaded. The timing could not be more opportunistic.
“I think that’s huge to have from a chemistry standpoint, getting everybody back healthy,” Jamal Crawford said Friday morning before practice. “You want to be playing your best when you head towards the playoffs.”
Crawford, a leading candidate for the 6th Man of the Year award, has missed the last five games with a sore left Achilles’ tendon. He worked out Thursday, practiced Friday morning and says there’s “definitely a chance” he will suit up to play Saturday against the Sacramento Kings.
“I think there’s nothing like being out there [on the court vs just playing at practice],” Crawford added. “You can simulate things in workouts and you can ride the bike and treadmill and all that other stuff, but it’s nothing like being out there with your teammates.”
Crawford’s 18.6 points per game is the highest scoring average for a bench player since Jason Terry put up 19.6 points per game in 2008-2009. Crawford averaged 18 points per game when he won the 6th Man of the Year award as a member of the Atlanta Hawks in 2009-2010.
“I think the sky is the limit [when team is healthy], but we just haven’t had that,” Crawford said. “It’s tough. Our first game with everybody could be in the playoffs.”
Despite Danny Granger’s potential to add another threat to the bench and J.J. Redick’s ability to drive the defense mad with his off-ball movement, Crawford’s knack for putting the ball in the hoop cannot be understated.
“It’s unbelievable the stress that he [Crawford] puts on the defense,” Chris Paul said Friday morning. “We have so many different ways that we can play, so many different lineups. A lot of times they [opponents] try to put a defender on me and then when Jamal is on the court, you gotta pick which one is the defender going to guard.”
The five-man unit that has played together the most this season has been Matt Barnes-Darren Collison-Blake Griffin-DeAndre Jordan-Chris Paul. Of the units that have played at least 120 minutes together, a lineup of Barnes-Crawford-Griffin-Jordan-Paul have had the highest average margin of +19.9 points per 100 possessions.
Constantly having to put out different lineups throughout the season has helped the team build a certain sense of confidence. Regardless of who is on the floor, the Clippers have managed to stay near the top of a competitive Western Conference.
“It’s a gift and a curse because it shows the potential and it shows that we can still win games,” Crawford said. “But I think to take the next step, you need everybody. We can get through anything. We’ve been a no-excuse team all year.”
After missing the previous 25 games due to a bulging disk in his back, J.J. Redick returned to the lineup against Dallas last week. Despite putting up 12 points, Redick just didn’t seem himself as he shot 3-10 in 24 minutes of action. In the three games since returning to the lineup, Redick is averaging about 10 points per game on 39.3 percent shooting in 25 minutes of action.
“The longer you’re out, the harder it becomes [to get back into rhythm],” Crawford noted. “And that’s why you want to get back out there.”
“We’re not just bringing back Jamal, we’re bringing back JJ,” coach Doc Rivers said Friday morning before practice. “We’re moving DC [Darren Collison], so there’s a lot of moving parts right now.”
With three games overthe next five days, the Clippers have just enough time to put together all these individual pieces in preparation for what should be a long postseason run.
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