Chris Paul's status uncertain as Clippers prep for Game 1 vs. Rockets

Clippers face quick turnaround, opening West semifinals in Houston two days after winning Game 7 over Spurs

They couldn't exhale, not even after the end of a breathless first-round playoff series.

The Clippers boarded their charter flight Sunday not knowing whether the point guard who had carried them past the San Antonio Spurs would be available in the opener of their Western Conference semifinal series against the Houston Rockets.

There wasn't any more clarity upon their arrival.

Chris Paul was officially listed as questionable for Game 1 on Monday night at the Toyota Center because of the strained left hamstring that left him hobbled for most of the Clippers' 111-109 victory over the Spurs in Game 7.

An MRI test on Paul's hamstring was negative but Clippers Coach Doc Rivers told reporters he wouldn't let Paul play if there was any chance of his aggravating the injury. Sitting out might be a tough sell for Paul, who played in all 82 regular-season games for the first time in his 10-year NBA career and essentially played the last 2 1/2 quarters Saturday on one leg.

The uncertainty placed an onus on a training staff that Paul has routinely described as the best in the NBA.

"I said it before, our training staff is amazing, the amount of people that we have day in and day out trying to make sure that we're ready to play," Paul said Saturday after his improbable running, jumping bank shot with one second left against the Spurs made him the first player in league history to convert a game-winning shot with so little time left in a Game 7. "We're really about to see what they're made of now since we've got a day and a half, I think, to get ready for Houston."

Jamal Crawford would probably start at point guard if Paul were unable to play, with Austin Rivers and Lester Hudson available to handle the ball off the bench. Doc Rivers said he was thankful he signed Hudson late in the season to give him an additional guard instead of a big man.

Rivers said he would attempt to compensate for fatigue and the possibility of being short-handed by using more players off his bench. Crawford, Glen Davis and Austin Rivers were the only reserves to play significant minutes in the first round.

Regardless of who plays, the Clippers said they would not change their approach against the rested Rockets, who have not played in nearly a week since completing their first-round series against the Dallas Mavericks with a Game 5 victory April 28.

"We're just going to trust the system like we did," forward Blake Griffin said Saturday. "When [Paul] was in the [locker room], we said, 'Come on, we can't feel sorry for ourselves, we've got to strap up and go. We're going to trust our system just like any other game. Nobody is going to do it alone, but we need everybody.'"

The Rockets will also be somewhat undermanned with point guard Patrick Beverley (wrist) and forward Donatas Motiejunas (back) out for the playoffs after suffering season-ending injuries in late March.

Much of the Clippers' defense will be focused on center Dwight Howard and shooting guard James Harden, the reported runner-up for the NBA's most valuable player award who fared significantly worse against the Clippers this season than he did against the rest of the league.

Harden averaged 20.0 points per game while shooting 35.8% overall and 24.0% from three-point range against the Clippers, well below his season averages of 27.4 points, 44.0% and 37.5%.

Ultimately, the early games in the series may hinge on the availability and effectiveness of Paul, who was ready when his team needed him in the final moments of its biggest playoff triumph.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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