Chris Paul sat out Sunday for the fourth consecutive game and for the seventh time in nine contests because of a bruised right kneecap, which meant Eric Bledsoe replaced him as the Clippers’ starting point guard for the fourth straight game and the seventh time in nine contests.
It’s uncertain when Paul will be sound enough to practice or play, with coach Vinny Del Negro saying there was no timetable for his return to active duty. Paul was injured when he knocked knees with J.J. Redick of the Orlando Magic on Jan. 12.
The Clippers’ game Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center was their last before they leave Tuesday afternoon on an eight-game trip, and there’s no telling if Paul will play on the trip. The Clippers don’t play at home again until facing the Houston Rockets on Feb. 13.
No question, Bledsoe has some growing to do if the Clippers are to play their usual high-octane style with Paul at the point. The Clippers went into Sunday with a four-game losing streak, which could be linked to Paul’s injury, but not necessarily to Bledsoe’s play in his absence.
There’s been something of a double-whammy in effect for the Clippers, however. Paul’s prolonged absence has not only weakened their starting lineup but it’s also left their second unit depleted since Bledsoe has moved into the starting five.
Paul averaged 16.6 points, 9.7 assists and 3.5 rebounds before the Clippers decided to rest him until his kneecap was right again. Bledsoe went into Sunday’s game averaging 8.9 points, 2.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds. There was more to the differences in their games than statistics, however.
“We’ve been in a few games we haven’t been able to close out,” Del Negro said. “We have to execute. We should be more than capable of it, but we’ve got to learn how to win with the guys we have now. … We have confidence in Eric. He has to continue to learn how to run the team.”
The Clippers won three in a row when Paul was sidelined initially, and then split two after his brief return to the active roster. They couldn’t beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Phoenix Suns or the Trail Blazers and their losing streak reached four games before Sunday’s rematch with Portland.
“It’s just game management,” Bledsoe said of replacing Paul for an extended period. “It’s a great experience playing (with the starters) and trying to run the team. There’s no pressure. I pretty much grew up doing it my whole life.”