LOS ANGELES -- When Chris Paul went down with a separated right shoulder nearly four weeks ago, Doc Rivers knew exactly what he was dealing with.
Rivers never talks about injuries. He acts as if he’s unaware of the injuries his players sustain whenever they are brought up. Ask him for an update or timeline on the return of an injured player and he’ll shrug his shoulders and move to the next question.
It was different when Paul went down. Rivers let out a long sigh before talking to reporters in Dallas and said Paul would be out three to five weeks and maybe more with a separated right shoulder and the Clippers would have to find ways to win without him.
Including the Clippers’ comeback win over the Mavericks the night Paul went down, the Clippers are 11-3 without Paul this month and 12-3 on the season without their leader.
Their lead atop the Pacific Division has ballooned to four-and-a-half games and they are now just one game behind the San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers for the second and third seeds in the West.
“I said it right away. Chris is going to miss some games this year,” Rivers said. “Guys miss games. I didn’t think much about it. There was nothing I could do. I think our players have to feel that way every night. You try to win the game. Guys miss games. I think this was a good thing for our team in the long run. It gives Chris fresh legs when he comes back.
“We were struggling whenever Chris went out of the game and now when he comes back and when we take him out our team is learning to play that way as well. In the long run you can always find something good no matter how bad things look and that’s just the way I viewed it when he went down.”
The Clippers’ only “bad loss” without Paul came last week on the road against the Charlotte Bobcats, who are currently the eighth seed in the East. The Clippers other two losses were to San Antonio and Indiana, two of the top three teams in the league, on the second night of a road back-to-back.
Without Paul, the Clippers have emphasized ball movement and are finding ways to score. They are averaging over 110 points per game without Paul, with other players picking up the playmaking and scoring slack. Darren Collison is averaging 13.9 points and 6.2 assists while starting in place of Paul and Jamal Crawford, who also has played some at point guard, is averaging 21.1 points and 4.7 assists while Paul has been out.
“I’m happy with it but I look at us and we could still be better,” Rivers said. “That’s how you have to be. It’s important. San Antonio doesn’t blink when someone misses games and neither does Miami and Oklahoma City hasn’t blinked much either. We’re in a very competitive process and you have to keep playing.”
One of the interesting tandems the Clippers have discovered with Paul out and Collison battling an injured big toe is Crawford and J.J. Redick, who rarely played together when Paul and Collison were healthy. Both are playmakers who are able to read defenses quickly and they are playing off each other when they are paired together on the court.
“[Crawford] and J.J. have this thing going and it’s just amazing,” Rivers said. “It’s funny; we have this one play we run for them but it’s tough to work on it when we don’t know what they’re going to do. They play the three or four-man game with Blake and you can do that with veterans. They’ve been in the league and they can read situations.”
While Paul has been out, he hasn’t been away from the team very much; only missing the first three games of the Clippers’ seven-game road trip to continue his rehab in Los Angeles. Paul has become an extension of Rivers’ coaching staff on the bench and even on the team charter when they’re on the road.
“He talks more if that’s possible,” Rivers said. “He was back in the coach’s section every trip and I was like go back in the front and play cards. What I love it about it is that he’s really into it. He’s into the game. During the time outs you can hear him. A lot of guys just travel to travel but I thought he was really good on the road and I was impressed with that because you don’t know."
Rivers always thought his team would survive without Paul but their 12-3 record in the interim without him might not be nearly as valuable as the lessons they’ve learned since he's been out that they’ll be able to refer back to when he returns next month.
“We’re doing a lot of stuff right,” Rivers said. “One of the areas we haven’t been as good at is defensively because when you lose an all-defensive guard that’s hard but offensively we’ve figured out more ways to score because we’ve had to. We don’t have the safety blanket and I think our guys have handled that very well.”