Just a couple of weeks ago, the Los Angeles Clippers were the talk of the NBA with their sterling 32-9 record. But since then, the Clippers have seen Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford miss time with injuries, and the team has come falling a bit back down to Earth.
Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro is hoping to have his top three scorers back in the lineup when Los Angeles continues their eight-game road trip against the Miami Heat on Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Veteran guard Chauncey Billups also has a chance to return for his first action since Dec. 3.
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The biggest injury of course has been Paul, who is the man who makes the Clippers go. The star point guard has missed the last nine games with a bruised right knee, and Los Angeles has gone just 3-6 in those games. Eric Bledsoe has done an admirable job filling in and did score a career-high 27 points in a victory over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, but he just does not have the same effect on the offense as Paul.
Griffin has missed the last two games with a strained hamstring and Crawford sat out the win over the Magic with a sore right shoulder. Billups meanwhile has been battling tendinitis in his left foot. All four players are currently game-time decisions against Miami.
It would certainly benefit the Clippers to get at least a couple of these guys back against the Heat, because LeBron James and Co. have been playing some excellent ball of late. Miami has won eight of their last 10, including three in a row. The Heat have been close to unbeatable at AmericanAirlines Arena this year, sporting a 20-3 record on their home court.
James is in the midst of one his best seasons ever, and he has been breathtakingly dominant during the past couple of weeks. Over his last 10 games, LeBron is averaging 29.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 7.3 assists on a ridiculous 59.2 percent shooting. For the season, he's shooting a career-best 55.6 percent from the field and an excellent 40.8 percent from three-point range. With the addition of a reliable three-point shot, there's almost nothing James can't do well.
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James' sidekick, Dwyane Wade, has also been mostly good despite some assertions that he's in rapid decline. Wade had 31 points and eight assists in Miami's stirring 114-108 win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, and he's averaging 20.9 points on a career-best 50.5 percent from the field.
Chris Bosh missed the win over the Rockets with the flu, but he could play on Friday night.
The Clippers did beat the Heat in Los Angeles on Nov. 14, but that was when they were mostly healthy. If the injured players are unable to go, it's hard to envision the Clippers going into Miami and beating the mighty Heat, even if Bosh sits. But if for some chance a couple, or all of them play, it will help re-establish not only Los Angeles' star power, but their bench dominance as well. The Clippers' bench has been one of the best in the league for the majority of the season, and if they are close to full strength, could take advantage of a weak Heat bench.
Tip-off for this showdown is at 8 p.m. ET and will be televised on ESPN.