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Clips' Paul banged up

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Paul Injury May Cost Clippers No. 1 Seed, Affect Bledsoe Trade

The Los Angeles Clippers appear to have the best team in franchise history with a 32-11 start. L.A. comfortably leads the Pacific Division, and it would take a major collapse for the Clippers not to win their first division crown. The club also is battling for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

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However, the team is understandably nervous on Wednesday as star point guard Chris Paul is set for additional tests on his bothersome right knee - at the moment it's being called a bruised kneecap and an earlier MRI didn't show anything serious. Paul, a five-time All-Star, originally hurt the knee late in the Clippers' 104-101 home loss to Orlando on January 12 when he collided with the Magic's J.J. Redick.

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Paul missed the next three games but returned last Saturday against Washington and played 35 minutes. Paul had 22 points and 11 assists but was just 6-for-16 from the field. Then on Monday in a loss to Golden State, Paul had easily his worst game of the season, finishing with a season-low four points on 1-for-7 shooting in 33 minutes. You could see Paul limping at times.

That performance clearly was a red flag, so the team sat Paul for Tuesday night's potential Western Conference Finals preview against Oklahoma City. The Thunder won 109-97 in a game that was never much in jeopardy for them. That could be a critical win down the road in terms of home-court advantage in a playoff matchup because it clinched the season series for Oklahoma City against the Clippers, with the Thunder beating L.A. in overtime back in November. The teams play one more regular-season game.

As for now, the Clippers are saying Paul is out indefinitely. The injury couldn't come at a worse time as the Clippers play 10 of their next 11 on the road (Clips are 10-9 ATS in away games), starting Thursday night at Phoenix, which will have live play-by-play betting at the book. Backup Eric Bledsoe has generally been terrific in place of Paul this year; he is averaging 8.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game in just over 19 minutes of action. In fact, Bledsoe has been so good that his trade value has never been higher.

The Clippers are in a bit of a bind with Bledsoe, who has one year remaining on his rookie contract. They could trade him before the February 21 deadline and receive a huge return. Los Angeles now may have to hang on to Bledsoe all season as insurance for Paul, both from an injury perspective and in case Paul doesn't re-sign with the Clippers when he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer (most believe he will be back).

Ironically, the New Orleans Hornets wanted Bledsoe in any package for Paul, back when the Hornets were talking with the Clippers before last season. Then Clippers GM Neil Olshey refused to include Bledsoe and that proved wise. As good as Bledsoe is, he's no Paul, who can break down defenses like no other point guard and leads the NBA in steals. Teams will be able to play off Bledsoe because he shoots only 26% from 16-to-23 feet.

If Paul misses only a week, then there's no reason to panic. However if it's 2-4 weeks or something in that ballpark, it probably costs Los Angeles any chance at a top-two seed in the West unless the Thunder or San Antonio Spurs also suffer a big injury. Currently the Thunder are 9/5 Bovada favorites to win the West, followed by the Clippers (11/4) and Spurs (15/4). While the Clippers are 0-2 this season versus OKC, they are 2-0 against San Antonio with two games left in that series.

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In addition to Clippers-Suns, the book will also offer live play-by-play betting on Knicks at Celtics on Thursday night. It's the first meeting between those heated rivals since Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett nearly fought on the court and then Anthony went looking for Garnett afterward outside the Celtics locker room and near the Boston team bus. Anthony was suspended one game for that. He's lucky security intervened both times or things could have gotten out of hand.

On Friday, the book offers Spurs at Mavericks and Jazz at Lakers. Los Angeles no doubt will be thrilled to be home considering it's one of the worst road teams in the NBA. Rumors abound that Pau Gasol will have to be dealt before the February 21 deadline, and there's even talk that the Lakers might think about trading Dwight Howard, who clearly is unhappy with his role on the sinking ship.

Saturday, the book offers Knicks at 76ers and Clippers at Trail Blazers. It could be an important night for New York as it is hoping to get back starting point guard Raymond Felton for the game. Felton hasn't played since fracturing his pinkie on Christmas, and he's a major upgrade over backups Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni. The Knicks are 5-6 since Felton was injured entering Thursday's game in Boston. He is averaging 15.8 points and 6.3 assists this season.

Finally, on Sunday the book offers Heat at Celtics, Thunder at Lakers, Hawks at Knicks and Trail Blazers at Clippers. That is the Clippers' lone home game from Thursday, February 12.

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