A late regular-season game against an Eastern Conference team with a losing record just became one of the hottest tickets on the Clippers' schedule.
Blake Griffin is expected to make his return April 3, against the Washington Wizards at Staples Center after the Clippers announced Sunday that the power forward had been medically cleared to play and would begin serving a team-imposed, four-game suspension for punching a team assistant equipment manager.
FOR THE RECORD:
Clippers: In the March 28 Sports section, the photo of Chris Paul with the Clippers Report column was identified as being from the Clippers-Nuggets game March 27. It was from a Clippers-Nuggets game in February. —
It will be the first of seven games in which Griffin will get to play before the Clippers open the playoffs. Griffin was sidelined since Christmas because of hand and quadriceps injuries before returning to practice Saturday.
Initial reviews of a player who has sat out 42 games were mixed.
"He had no endurance as far as his wind, but as far as just playing basketball, he looked terrific," Coach Doc Rivers said before the Clippers defeated the Denver Nuggets, 105-90, Sunday at Staples Center. "It's amazing watching what three months does, though, as far as memory of the sets and the timing. That wasn't pretty, but overall he looked good."
Rivers said Griffin would probably remain in the starting lineup.
"It's how many minutes in a row can he play," Rivers said. "If you went by [Saturday], it would be three. But hopefully by then he'll be better. … Honestly, I don't know if you can get him in condition to play 35 minutes or 30 minutes right away."
Griffin's value to the team was evident when the Clippers practiced end-of-game plays Saturday and realized all the ways they could utilize the versatile player.
"Everything is a lot smoother when Blake is on the court," point guard Chris Paul said. "Just our continuity and the way our offense looks, it just gives our team an ultimate confidence."
Rivers hasn't been afraid to tell players it's time to retire because of a drop in athleticism. That probably won't be among the talking points if he eventually advises Paul Pierce to call it a career.
"Paul has never used his athleticism," Rivers said of the 38-year-old forward, "so he's so difficult to judge. There are days in practice where he's one of the best players in the gym."
Rivers said he prefers players come to him to say they're done. Pierce has two more years left on the three-year, $10.5-million contract he signed in July and has said he will decide about his future this summer.
"He has game left in him," Rivers said. "His is going to be the desire part. He'll be far tougher than one of the athletic players where you basically have to say, 'I think it's time.' "
DeAndre Jordan pretended to be teammate Jamal Crawford in the Clippers' locker room before the game, giving an acceptance speech for winning what would be a record third NBA sixth-man-of-the-year award.
Crawford scored 14 points Sunday and has averaged more than 15 points per game since Christmas, putting him in contention again for the award.
Denver Coach Mike Malone repeated Rivers' recent assertion that the honor given to the NBA's top reserve should be named the Jamal Crawford Award.
CLIPPERS VS. BOSTON CELTICS
When: Monday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Staples Center.
On the air: TV: Prime; Radio: 570, 1330.
Record vs. Celtics: 0-1.
Update: The Celtics emerged with a 139-134 overtime victory over the Clippers the day before the All-Star break. The Clippers squandered a five-point lead in the final minute of regulation and a six-point advantage in overtime. Clippers guard Chris Paul played a season-high 47 minutes because of the absence of backup Austin Rivers, who was sidelined because of a broken hand.