No longer in the Western Conference, Deron Williams won't get as many opportunities to face off against Chris Paul. Now, a hamstring injury could keep Paul out of one of the two scheduled meetings between the two top point guards this season.
Paul's status is questionable for the Los Angeles Clippers' home game against Williams and the New Jersey Nets on Monday afternoon.
Selected with the third and fourth picks, respectively, in the 2005 draft, Williams and Paul quickly developed a rivalry as members of Western Conference teams - Williams for Utah and Paul for New Orleans. That changed last season after the Jazz traded Williams to the Nets.
Paul, traded himself from the Hornets to the Clippers before the 2011-12 opener, has gotten off to good start alongside second-year star Blake Griffin, averaging 18.0 points, 8.4 assists and 2.8 steals in 37.2 minutes per game.
However, the Clippers' new point guard strained his left hamstring in the fourth quarter of Saturday's 102-94 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers - the Clippers' fifth victory in six games overall and their fifth straight home win. He had a season-high 33 points and six assists before departing.
An MRI done Sunday was negative, and Paul is now considered day to day.
"Chris is a fighter," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "He's competitive. I think if he can get out there he will, but we'll be smart about it. We have a lot of games left."
The injury comes at an inopportune time as the Clippers (6-3) are opening a stretch of three games in three nights. The back-to-back-to-back will continue with a visit to Utah, then conclude Wednesday with a home game against Dallas. Paul isn't the only injury hampering Los Angeles. Backup guard Mo Williams (foot) missed Saturday's win, while Chauncey Billups played despite back spasms.
"You've got to deal with (injuries)," coach Del Negro said of the effects of a compact schedule. "Every team is. ... We've just got to stay positive."
While Paul nurses his balky hamstring, Williams has been struggling with his shot.
Williams returned to Salt Lake City to face the Jazz on Saturday. He finished with 16 points and five assists, but shot 3 of 15 from the field and had five turnovers in New Jersey's 107-94 loss. The Nets (3-10) trailed by as many as 23 points.
"It wasn't a very good one for me," said Williams, who is averaging 18.3 points but shooting just 36.6 percent.
Of bigger concern for the Nets than Williams' shooting is their defense. New Jersey has dropped four of five, giving up an average of 108.0 points during that stretch.
The Nets have won their last three meetings with the Clippers.