The Los Angeles Clippers are getting healthier. The Miami Heat are fighting the flu.
Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin returned to the Clippers’ lineup on Friday night, when the Pacific Division leaders visited the reigning NBA champion Heat – who were without Ray Allen and Chris Bosh, both sidelined by an illness that has been going around the team.
Miami did have Dwyane Wade in the lineup, after he wasn’t feeling well earlier Friday and missed the team’s morning shootaround.
”We’re trying to get our team back together,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. ”Right now it’s just about trying to manage through the injuries, trying to see if we can become whole as we move through this long road trip.”
Del Negro said he would manage the minutes of those players who are coming back from injuries, a list that also includes Jamal Crawford, who has been bothered by a sore right shoulder.
Billups has appeared in only three games this season and has most recently been bothered by left foot tendinitis. Paul missed the Clippers’ last nine games before Friday with a bruised right kneecap, and Griffin sat out two games with a strained left hamstring.
For as strong as the Clippers have been at times this season – including a 17-game winning streak from Nov. 28 through Dec. 30 – Thursday marked the first time Del Negro had all 15 players available for practice. Even that was limited, since Griffin’s leg kept him from participating in any full-court portion of that workout.
”We’ve got to get our rotations down, figure out who’s healthy and what we can go to at certain times,” Del Negro said. ”And that’s going to take a little more concentration on our guys’ part and understanding what we can do out there on a consistent basis.”
To say the Clippers were thrilled to have their full complement of players back was a bit of an understatement.
”The urgency and also the basketball IQ and disposition, everything, just went to a whole `nother level,” Clippers forward Caron Butler said.
For the Heat, the flu has been a bit of an issue of late.
Heat President Pat Riley missed the team’s recent visit to the White House because of the illness, and Bosh has been fighting it for much of this week. Allen was not at the shootaround, and it was clear then that he wouldn’t be available for the Clippers game.
Miami next plays on Sunday, home again against the Los Angeles Lakers.
”I feel different each day,” said Heat forward LeBron James, who has battled congestion this week. ”Just try to get as much Vitamin C, just try to take your vitamins, just try to stay on course and not let it affect you.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he wasn’t caught off guard by the Clippers having their full roster back, and that Miami prepared for that likelihood.
There was one roster move the Heat made on Friday that wasn’t illness-related: They signed forward-center Chris Andersen for the remainder of the season, as has been expected since they brought him into the organization three weeks ago.