Projecting Chris Paul's Impact on Clippers When Superstar Returns from Injury

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IFebruary 8, 2013

January 2, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul (3) looks on during the first quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Clippers 115-94. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Paul could be back in action for the Los Angeles Clippers tonight. According to Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald, the dynamic point guard is a game-time decision tonight against the Miami Heat.

Needless to say, the Clippers are about to become a much better team than the one fans have seen recently. Since a four-game winning streak ended on January 19, the Clippers have gone just 3-7. Of those 10 games, Paul has missed all but one with a bruised knee.

The fact is that once he is back in the lineup, Los Angeles will once again have its top playmaker in uniform. Paul has posted 16.6 points, 9.7 assists and a league best 2.6 steals per game this season, and has almost single-handedly turned the Clippers from lovable losers into top contenders.

Once he is back in action, the sky is the limit. Keep in mind that he helped the team to a franchise-record 17 game winning streak this season, not to mention a perfect December.

Thanks to recent struggles, however, Los Angeles is now four and a half games out of the top spot in the highly competitive Western Conference. Ahead of them are two phenomenal teams in the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder, both of whom pose a serious threat to the Clippers in the regular season and playoffs.

However, Paul's return is going to be an absolute godsend for the Clippers, one that will see them close that margin and overtake at least Oklahoma City. The team has 31 games remaining, only 10 of which are against playoff teams that are seeded fourth or higher.

Barring more injuries, the Clippers are in a prime position to close out the second half of the season on a positive note and enter the playoffs as a team to beat. And it will all be thanks to Paul being back in the lineup.

The fact is that a team that plays a fast-paced offense like the Clippers cannot fully succeed without a top point guard. Nothing against Eric Bledsoe, but he's still got some things to learn about being a consistently good floor general.

Paul, on the other hand, has years of experience running an offense. He will use what he has learned in seven NBA seasons to have Lob City back full force, and his pesky defense will also be welcome upon his return.

Los Angeles is a special team, from the thunderous dunks of Blake Griffin to Jamal Crawford's keen ability to sink three-pointers and be a spark off the bench. They both owe that to Paul, who will continue to make them and the Clippers great over the rest of the regular season and, once they start, the playoffs.

Prediction: Clippers finish regular season on 24-9 run, rank No. 2 in Western Conference