We figured as much when he made his on-court comeback from injury a week before the main event of All-Star Weekend, but the Los Angeles Clippers made it official on Monday: point guard Chris Paul has confirmed that he's going to play in the 2014 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans on Sunday night.
“It was all about me getting healthy,” Paul said. “It was more important for me to get healthy and be there for my team and my teammates. The All-Star Game is an honor and a privilege, but being healthy is the most important thing. The All-Star Game was second, but it feels good to be ready to go.” [...]
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said there may not be a more perfect situation for Paul to get court time than a game that is traditional[ly] bereft of defense.
“I like him playing in the All-Star Game, personally,” Rivers said. “I think this is a rare case where he’s ready to play and the All-Star Game is probably the safest venue for him to play because it’s such a defensive struggle. Guys are taking charges and diving on the floor. I think it will just be a good thing for him to just go up and down. It allows him to go up and down in NBA game with really good players that don’t play defense in the game.”
You could argue that Paul got just that sort of experience in L.A.'s 123-78 win over the hapless Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday, of course, but I get what Doc's saying.
After spending more than five weeks sidelined recuperating from the separated right shoulder he suffered in a Jan. 3 win over the Dallas Mavericks, Paul scored seven points on 3 for 6 shooting, dished eight assists against four turnovers, and snagged four steals in 23 minutes of work. The Clippers are off until Wednesday night, when they'll welcome the Portland Trail Blazers to Staples Center for what ought to be a barn-burner. After that, Paul — who was selected by NBA coaches as a reserve on the Western Conference squad, marking his seventh consecutive All-Star nod — will head east to New Orleans, where he spent (most of) his first six seasons in the NBA after the then-New Orleans Hornets drafted him with the fourth overall pick in the 2005 NBA draft.
It's the city where Paul earned his reputation as one of the league's best point guards. It's where he joined with David West, Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic to win a franchise-record 56 games during the 2007-08 season, earning his first All-Star berth in the process (in a game played in New Orleans) and pushed the vaunted San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the Western Conference semifinals. It's where he took an outgunned and overmatched Hornets team into a first-round series with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011 and authored one of the more brilliant point-guard performances you're going to see: 33 points, 14 assists, seven rebounds, four steals and just two turnovers in a Game 1 victory over Kobe Bryant's heavily favored Lakers at Staples Center. (And it might not even have been his best outing of the series.)
It's where he grew up, to a large extent, and with so many memories and relationships tied to the Big Easy, it was nearly unthinkable that Paul, the reigning All-Star Game MVP, would miss out on the opportunity to play in front of what were once his hometown fans in what will wind up being a family affair. From Sean Highkin of USA TODAY Sports:
Everybody who knows me how much I love the city, how much I miss the city of New Orleans. I always say, it's not Bourbon Street that makes the city of New Orleans, it's the people. As much as I'm excited to get down to New Orleans for All-Star Weekend, the thing that I'm the most excited about is seeing those familiar faces who became a part of my family. [...]
Through my foundation, we did a lot of different things [for New Orleans]. We refurbished basketball courts all around the city. I'm not sure if you know, but I still have my after-school program there, the CP3 After School Zone. I'm actually going to go see those kids on Thursday. Those kids at the schools are a part of me. Every time we come and play in New Orleans, I get them tickets to the game so they can come watch. I still have a lot of extended family. My sister-in-law was born and raised in New Orleans. My entire family is coming with me to New Orleans for the All-Star Game. My family's pastor is still there in New Orleans, and I'm actually christening my daughter.
While it's great that Paul's back and will be available for All-Star duty, it does, however, represent an unfortunate break for those players who might have been under consideration for an injury replacement slot on the Western Conference roster should he have been unable to suit up — namely, Goran Dragic of the Phoenix Suns, Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies (though he himself has missed the last couple of weeks with a right ankle sprain) and DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings. Forward Anthony Davis of the hometown New Orleans Pelicans was named an injury replacement for Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant last Friday.
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