Chris Paul has been medically cleared to return to the Clippers

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  • Chris Paul
    Chris Paul
    American professional basketball player
Chris Paul's on the comeback trail. (AP)
Chris Paul’s on the comeback trail. (AP)

Well, this is a neat post-All-Star-break/pre-trade-deadline surprise:

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That’s right: Chris Paul has been medically cleared to return to the floor for the Los Angeles Clippers, five weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb.

That’s a speedy recovery for the nine-time All-Star. The initial recovery timeline laid out by the Clips was six to eight weeks, which could have kept him out into the second week of March. Instead, it looks like CP3 could be back in the fold as early as this weekend.

That, clearly, would be huge for the Clippers, who did their level best to weather the storm in their point guard’s absence, going 6-7 in 13 games without him before the All-Star break in a grueling stretch that featured two five-game road trips and two meetings with the rampaging Golden State Warriors, who walloped the Clips by a combined 59 points in those two contests.

The Clippers come out of the break with a brutal back-to-back, heading back to Oracle Arena for another matchup with the league-leading Dubs on Thursday night before returning home to take on the West’s No. 2 seed, the 43-13 San Antonio Spurs, on Friday night. Whether or not Paul takes the court in either of those games remains to be seen …

… but his return to the lineup would clearly provide a major boost to a squad that sits at 35-21, a half-game up on the Utah Jazz and two games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies in the race for the fourth seed in the West and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

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Paul was playing characteristically brilliant ball before his injury, leading the league in steals per game at 2.3, and ranking fourth in assists per game at 9.7 a contest. He’s assisting on 50 percent of his teammates’ buckets during his time on the floor, the third-best mark in the league, and ranks fifth behind only James Harden, John Wall, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James in points created by direct assist.

He’s been one of the league’s most efficient pull-up shooters, isolation scorers, and high-volume pick-and-roll ball-handlers. He rarely gets chances to catch-and-shoot, since he’s just about always on the ball, but when he does, he shoots it about as accurately as Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. Which is, y’know, very good.

As well as replacements Austin Rivers (15.8 points and 4.5 assists per game over the 13 contests without CP3, shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 42.2 percent from 3), Jamal Crawford (15.1 points and 3.4 assists, shooting 43.8 percent from the floor and 41.2 percent from deep) and Raymond Felton (9.6 points, 3.9 assists, 37.5 percent from long distance), and as stellar as Blake Griffin has begun to look after coming back from his own injury woes, there’s just no substitute for CP3. The Clippers have been a whopping 20 points per 100 possessions better with Paul on the floor than off it this season; their only chance of going toe-to-toe with the best of the West is getting Paul, Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick fully healthy and back in rhythm by mid-April. Now, it seems, the Clips will get a bit more time to jell than we thought they might have before season’s end.

The jury’s still out on whether the Clippers will be able to add external help before Thursday at 3 p.m. Even if they can’t, though, getting back their biggest possible difference-maker a few weeks earlier than expected seems like a pretty great consolation prize.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!