The strange season of Clippers forward Matt Barnes

It’s doubtful that Clippers forward Matt Barnes has had a stranger season than this one.

He’s been up and down, healthy and hurt, a backup and a starter, hot and cold. At the NBA trade deadline last month, he worried that he might be on his way out of L.A., but Tuesday night, he brought the Clippers back from a deficit to beat the Phoenix Suns.

Barnes is a 10-year veteran, so maybe he’s learned how to adjust to the changing winds of the game. But it has nonetheless been a wild ride.

Now he’s on top after scoring a season-high 28 points in a 104-96 win over the Suns that puts the Clippers in a virtual tie for the third spot in the Western Conference. But he also knows how quickly things can change.

"I was a little lost before the trade deadline, frustrated," Barnes told Clippers.com. "But like I’ve said, while I’m here I’m going to have fun and try to help the team in any way that I can."

Barnes, who turns 34 on Sunday, played every minute of the second half in Phoenix and scored 18 points in the third quarter, including four three-pointers. His hot stretch turned a 12-point Suns lead into an 81-73 Clippers advantage by the start of the fourth.

Barnes’ season has been interrupted by injuries of every sort. He missed all but one preseason game because of a calf injury, sat out a stretch in November and December after he suffered a torn retina in his left eye and has been slowed periodically by thigh and ankle injuries.

Considered a vital part of the Clippers’ second unit with Jamal Crawford, Barnes has even been asked to start, replacing a struggling Jared Dudley at small forward in late January.

Considering that he also had to adjust to a new system and coach in Doc Rivers, it’s no wonder Barnes has somtimes looked out of place.

"I’ve always thought it takes veteran guys a little longer because they have their own ways of doing things," Rivers told Clippers.com. "They have to break their habits. It’s not like they’re trying not to. At times, Matt will make a defensive mistake and point and knew it right away. So you just have to be patient with him."

Rivers praised Barnes’ defensive work last weekend against the New Orleans Pelicans and said he doesn’t worry about his offense. But when Barnes finds his stroke as he did Tuesday, he can be deadly accurate.

In fact, since Feb. 23, Barnes has converted 20 of his past 39 three-point attempts, giving them a shooter capable of spreading the floor. How long he’ll remain a starter depends largely on Danny Granger, who was signed last week. If Granger gets his conditioning in order, Rivers would prefer to bring Barnes’ energy and defense off the bench.

Either way, Barnes figures to play a prominent role for the Clippers heading toward the playoffs.