Although both the Boston Celtics (23-23) and Los Angeles Clippers (34-14) are missing star point guards heading into Sunday's game at 1 p.m. in Boston, the Clippers have more reason to be optimistic -- they'll get Chris Paul back this season while the Celtics are still adjusting to the fact that if they're going to hold onto their spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, they'll have to do it without Rajon Rondo.
The Celtics have won three straight games since losing Rondo for the season with a torn ACL, including a 100-98 win over the defending champion Miami Heat on Jan. 27. Sunday's game against the Clippers wraps up a four-game homestand for the Celtics. The team travels to Toronto to play the Raptors and then hosts the Los Angeles Lakers in their final two games this week. Boston closes February on a five-game road trip out west.
Without Rondo, Avery Bradley has slid over to the point guard spot and Courtney Lee and Leandro Barbosa have seen increased roles. Barbosa scored 12 points with four assists in the team's win over Orlando Feb. 1. It was just the second time this season Barbosa has scored in double figures. The first was in the season-opener against the Heat. Lee also had one of his better games as a Celtic against Orlando, scoring 14 points on 6 for 13 shooting.
The Clippers have played nine of their last 11 games without Paul, who is recovering from a bruised knee. Paul missed three games in mid-January, then returned to play in two games. Paul struggled shooting in those games, shooting just 7 for 23 combined. He's sat out six straight games since that return.
Like the Celtics without Rondo, the Clippers won the first three games that Paul missed, but in the last six, they are just 2-4. Among those four losses, the Clippers have been defeated by some of the league's worst teams -- a blowout loss to the Toronto Raptors in Rudy Gay's debut Feb. 1 as well as a loss to the Phoenix Suns.
Eric Bledsoe has started in Paul's absence. Bledsoe is averaging 9.0 points and 3.0 assists per game for the season. As a starter in those nine games, Bledsoe's scoring (11.4 points) and assists (4.6 per game) are up, but his shooting percentage is down significantly. A 44 percent shooter for the season, Bledsoe is shooting just 36 percent as a starter. He has shot just 11 for 42 over his last three games.
The Clippers are currently in the midst of an eight-game road trip. After Sunday's game, they have stops to play the Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic, Miami Heat, New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers before returning home to play the Houston Rockets on Feb. 13.