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Clippers' Chris Paul (thumb) may return as early as Thursday

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- Clippers point guard Chris Paul could return from a thumb injury as soon as Thursday night against the Golden State Warriors, according to coach Doc Rivers.

The nine-time All-Star tore a ligament in his left thumb on Jan. 16 against the Oklahoma City Thunder and underwent surgery two days later.

"He looked great. He went through the whole practice [on Tuesday]. You know, so it was good. Really good," Rivers said before practice on Wednesday. "He could play tomorrow. I mean, I can't tell you if he will or not, but he's been cleared medically. But we just want to make sure that he's comfortable playing."

Paul was initially expected to miss six to eight weeks while rehabilitating the thumb. Wednesday marks the fifth full week since the surgery.

"I don't even know ... are we in the target date of return? Is it early? Oh, well, great! I just know he looked good yesterday," Rivers said. "We'll see more today and see where we go from there.

"Because it's a hand and you gotta be comfortable with that," Rivers elaborated, suggesting comfort level will likely dictate Paul's return. "I mean, I had the same injury ... it's not an easy injury because you're just reluctant to play, you know? A guard uses his hands, he reaches. I thought overall he was pretty aggressive, but it was clear as practice went on he got more and more aggressive. In the first half, he wouldn't even play with the starters. By the end of the practice, he was back playing with the starters. So, I thought it was good for him."

The Clippers star has missed 13 games so far as a result of the thumb injury. He also missed seven games earlier in the season due to a strained left hamstring. Paul was enjoying another stellar season, averaging 17.5 points and 9.7 assists per game on 61.1 percent true shooting. He ranks first in Real Plus-Minus at 8.99 and sixth in player efficiency rating at 27.31.

"Thumb is getting better," Paul said before practice on Wednesday. "I'm excited to get out here and practice."

When asked if he felt an urgency to return quickly given that the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs are the Clippers' next two opponents, Paul expressed more caution.

"Nah, it can't. It can't," Paul said. "It's more so about my thumb, you know. I don't want to be out there hurting the team. That's my biggest thing."

When pressed to say what hurdles would have to be cleared for Thursday, Paul reiterated that opponent or schedule would not dictate his return. "The process makes the decision on its own," he said. "Myself, along with our training staff, we're gonna figure it out."

The Clippers' starters have played only 23 games together this season as Paul, JJ Redick and Blake Griffin have all missed time because of injury. But according to NBA.com, the team has ranked as one of the top starting units in the league when healthy with a net rating of 16.2, second only to the Warriors (23.0).