HOUSTON — The Clippers awoke Friday to find they were still in one piece after all, a day after the Houston Rockets took them apart with a 23-point victory in Game 1 of the playoffs.
There was even good news going into Game 2 at the Summit tonight. Tests at a Houston hospital revealed that Ron Harper suffered only a strained right knee ligament in a fall Thursday night and that the Clippers' second-leading scorer might be able to play tonight.
While teammates practiced at the Summit, Harper's day was consumed by anti-inflammation medicine, electric stimulation and ice treatments, running in a pool and relaxation.
And, perhaps, relief.
"He was obviously worried about that knee," team physician Tony Daly said, alluding to Harper's reconstructive surgery in January of 1990. "He felt a lot better after the MRI. It was therapeutic and diagnostic."
Said Harper: "I feel all right. I don't feel great. If there was a game (Friday), I wouldn't be able to play. Other than that, I feel all right.
"I knew I did not tear it up or anything. I knew all the (recovery) work I had done the past three years had paid off. . . . The series won't end (Saturday) if I don't play and the team losses. That I know. We're still going back home to play. So I'm going to wait for (today) and then I'll see how it is to play."
The Clippers want to exploit Harper's four-inch height advantage over 6-foot-2 Winston Garland. But the matchup at shooting guard might now become Garland against Gary Grant. Jaren Jackson and Lester Conner are also possibilities to start if Harper can't.
"Gary should start," Brown said. "But if Ron doesn't play, I know I will have either Jaren or Lester for sometime, so it would also be good to have him (Grant) coming off the bench. I don't want Gary to like he is being passed over, though."
Either way, it would be another turn in a season that, while perhaps the best of Grant's five-year career, has been filled with ups and downs.
His first half, as third guard behind Harper and point guard Mark Jackson, earned constant praise from Brown until Grant suffered a shoulder injury shortly before the all-star break.
By April, Grant had dropped behind Conner on the depth chart. Then came April 16, when he helped spark a victory against Golden State, followed by outings of 22, 28, 37 and 23 minutes to close the regular season.
"I think I would have the same mind-set if I start or not," said Grant, who played 27 minutes in Game 1 compared to Conner's five.
"The only difference is that, if Ron doesn't start, it would probably help me a lot if I did. It would let me get into the flow early on."
The Rockets had some good news on their injury front. They said Robert Horry's right knee is in the best condition since tendinitis forced him out of the final three games of the regular season and parts of practice before the series opened.
You wouldn't have known it from Game 1, when he limped noticeably through parts of 28 minutes, though he was strong enough to contribute 12 points, six rebounds and two three-pointers during the rout.