Blake Griffin inching closer to return

MINNEAPOLIS - Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin, who has been out the past three weeks after having a staph infection removed from his right elbow, has been running "full-tilt" and could be back by the end of the week, coach Doc Rivers said Monday.

"I know he's running and sweating and going full-tilt now," Rivers said. "That's good. I'm not sure what that means, not being there, but I know he's working, and that's all you can hope for. It's a good sign."

When Rivers was asked if Griffin was able to return to basketball activities, he said, "Yeah, I think so -- shooting."

Rivers said he didn't know when Griffin would be back. Asked if Sunday's game against the Golden State Warriors was a possibility, which would be four weeks since Griffin was sidelined, Rivers said, "I guess it's possible."

A team source said Griffin had not begun shooting yet but would this week and cautioned that a return Sunday would be "wildly optimistic," even though his conditioning is back to normal. A more likely target would be the following week.

Clippers forward Matt Barnes missed Monday's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves with a strained right hamstring suffered during Sunday's game against the Chicago Bulls. Jordan Hamilton, who was signed to a 10-contract last week, started in Barnes' place.

"It's just something right now we want to play kind of cautious," Barnes said. "I don't want this to linger on, especially, you know, we're in the home stretch of the season right now. We have kind of a spaced out schedule, which is kind of rare for us right now. We'll have tomorrow off, then play Wednesday and have Thursday and Friday off. I'll just try to see where I'll be at and kind of reevaluate Wednesday morning."