Paul skips practice for Clippers
By BETH HARRIS
LOS ANGELES (AP) The Los Angeles Clippers are poised to open their first playoff series in five years and Chris Paul skipped practice.
The All-Star guard whose December trade helped propel the Clippers to 40 wins - their most since 2006-07 - sat out Friday while recovering from a strained left groin that sidelined him during their last regular-season game.
Paul said he'll be ready to go for Sunday's opener in Memphis, where the Grizzlies closed strongly by winning 11 straight games.
"Starting out on the road is always tough," he said. "But as they always say, the series hasn't started until somebody loses at home. So we need to go and try to get Game 1."
The Clippers sure need him. Paul averaged 19.3 points and 8.7 assists in helping them win two out of three against the Grizzlies, who earned their victory at home in the final meeting this month.
Paul's arrival just before the lockout-shortened season began has led to a dramatic change in the Clippers' fortunes. Besides the playoff berth, he and Blake Griffin gave the team two starters in the All-Star game for the first time and the best winning percentage in franchise history.
"Just the attitude and the way we go about doing things now is completely different," Griffin said. "Our expectation is obviously to make the playoffs, but we're not just OK with that. Now it's about standing and fighting and pushing ourselves to regularly be in contention for championships."
The team had won just 29 and 32 games, respectively, in the previous two seasons.
"A lot of fans tell us how happy they are and stuff like that," Paul said. "But we expected this. It's not enough to say we are in the playoffs, we're here and we're going to try and win."
The Clippers stumbled a bit at season's end, losing three of their last four and in the process home-court advantage. The Grizzlies won their final six games to grab it away. The Clippers' 16-17 road record was fourth-best in the Western Conference.
"We slipped up a little at the end of the year with Chris having a little bit of injuries the last couple games," second-year coach Vinny Del Negro said. "But overall, we've done a much better job winning on the road, and the playoffs will be no different."
The Clippers will continue without Chauncey Billups, who went down with a season-ending torn Achilles tendon on Feb. 6. That might have been a fatal blow in seasons past, but not this year. Billups has stayed around the team encouraging the younger players, many of whom have never been in the playoffs before, including Griffin.
"You see a lot of teams that make deep runs have a lot of playoff experience, they have a lot of veterans," Griffin said. "We need to make up for our lack of experience in the playoffs with hard work."
Griffin figures to be involved in one of the series' key matchups against Zach Randolph, who led the Grizzlies' run to the second round last season and has played his way back into shape after a knee injury.
Griffin's ferocious dunks and stare downs afterward have drawn ire around the league and unabashed physical defense by opposing teams.
"I can't imagine it being a whole lot more physical than it's been, but I'm ready for it," he said.
"Everybody is hyped up for it and teams feed off that. So I think we have gotten a lot of people's best shot. But we've come to realize that and are ready for it."
Updated April 27, 2012