Jamal Crawford returns; adds extra boost to Clippers

LOS ANGELES — Jamal Crawford’s satisfaction was visible in his postgame smile, but who knows how long it will last?

No one does, really. The Clippers guard hopes that his third comeback from a stained left hamstring will be his last, but there’s no way to know for sure.

They do know this: If he can stay in the game and stay off the training table, it will only serve to enhance their chances in the upcoming NBA playoffs.

Sunday, in a 117-101 victory over the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center, Crawford played for the first time in five games, scoring 10 points in 19 minutes off the bench. Admittedly, there was some rust, but his return was an encouraging sign for a team that has endured one injury after another this season.

"It’s always good having Jamal back," teammate Darren Collison said. "It makes the game so much easier, scoring-wise. Any time Jamal is on the court, we have that extra boost of scoring."

Crawford’s game log has been full of stops and starts. He initially missed three games in early March because of the injury, played on March 8 against the Atlanta Hawks, then sat out another five. He returned March 22 for five games, but a sore left Achilles tendon, probably resulting from favoring his calf, put him down again.

Crawford conceded he may have tried to come back too soon, but after enduring a tough practice Friday, he felt it was time to get back on the court.

"I felt more prepared in this one than the other two (comebacks)," he said. "I trusted it a little bit more. No matter how the game starts, I’m always going to feel it out and in the second half get a little more comfortable."

His performance came on a day the Clippers tied last season’s franchise record with their 56th win and set a team record with their 33rd home victory. But it was a slow start: He missed five of his first six shots before sinking back-to-back three-pointers in the fourth quarter, the last one giving the Clippers a 105-95 lead with 4:10 left.

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"Jamal looked great," Chris Paul said. "We had a tough practice yesterday where we got after it, and those two threes he hit were Jamal Crawford style. Big shots for us, and we needed it."

Blake Griffin led the Clippers with 32 points, Paul had 17 and 10 assists and center DeAndre Jordan scored 21 despite making just 3 of 11 free throws.

Although coach Doc Rivers had been noncommittal on Crawford’s return, Crawford posted a tweet earlier in the week that he hoped to play against Sacramento. Now that he has, it gives him time to get into a rhythm before the playoffs.

The Clippers have two games left in the regular season, Tuesday at home against Denver and Wednesday at Portland, and Crawford will use them to find a consistency in his shot.

Saturday was a start.

"The explosiveness wasn’t there to start, but there were some quick bursts I felt comfortable doing," he said. "I tried to be very, very cautious in this approach than the last time when I came back quicker. But this one I felt more comfortable."