PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – The soreness in his right thigh still hasn’t subsided, but Clippers forward Matt Barnes prefers not to sit any longer. Three games was too much.
Barnes was out most of training camp and all of the preseason because of a calf injury, then appeared in only the first two regular-season games before he went down again, this time with a thigh contusion.
But Monday night, he told Clippers coach Doc Rivers he was ready to resume playing, and in 22 minutes with the second unit, he seemed to blend in easily.
Barnes played 22 minutes, scored nine points, grabbed eight rebounds and had three steals in a 109-107 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was also a contributor in a 21-0 run by the bench that helped the Clippers overcome a seven-point deficit.
The reserves have been largely underperforming, but with Barnes back and Jamal Crawford scoring 18 points and Darren Collison playing well on defense, it’s a unit that is finally coming together.
“I hope so,” Barnes said before the team practiced Tuesday. “Last year we had a great second unit and I think everyone was expecting us to magically be that good again. Really, with only myself and Jamal returning, it’s going take us time to build that chemistry.”
It could come quickly if Barnes can work through his injury and stay on the court. The Clippers thrived last season with their deep bench, and Barnes, a 12-year veteran, gives them a tough rebounder and outside shooter who can deliver points in bursts.
With the Oklahoma City Thunder coming to Staples Center tonight, they’ll need strong defensive efforts to blunt Kevin Durant, who’s averaging an NBA-best 30.2 points, and guard Russell Westbrook, who has been impressive since returning from a knee injury in last season’s playoffs.
It’s likely Barnes will spend some time defending Durant, so Monday’s game against the Timberwolves was something of a dress rehearsal for him.
“Not to take anything away from Minnesota, but I didn’t want to get thrown in the fire and not play and then have to guard (Durant),” he said. “I wanted to get out there, and even though I had to chase Kevin Martin, it’s somewhat different, but he moves around a lot. Kevin Durant is looking as good as he ever has and Westbrook is back in the mix now, so we’ll have our hands full.”
If he’s reasonably healthy, Barnes will help in a number of ways.
“It’s not something you can put into a stat,” Crawford said. “He does so many little things on the court, whether it’s guarding the best offensive player on the other team or cutting or getting a big rebound or a big shot. He’s just invaluable. He’s vital to our team, especially to our second unit.”
Barnes, 33, has been treating his injury with cupping, a Chinese form of alternative medicine in which a cup is used to create suction in the skin. Supporters of the practice say it mobilizes blood flow and promotes healing.
Barnes said he believes it’s helping him recover, and he said he’ll undergo cupping therapy again Wednesday morning. If it keeps him on the court, he’s all for it.
“I felt loose and stayed loose and really just wanted to get out here and catch a rhythm with these guys,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of watching to this point.”