Chris Paul has been out for two weeks with a bruised right kneecap but could… (Alex Brandon / Associated…)
MIAMI — Chris Paul will get to his knee in a minute.
First it's time to discuss the reason his hand was patting Eric Bledsoe on the rear the previous night, with the Clippers' understudy point guard showing his mentor he's ready for a starring role.
"I tell people all the time," Paul said of Bledsoe, the emerging talent who scored 27 points during a victory Wednesday over the Orlando Magic, "he's a starter in this league coming off our bench."
Paul then shifted to why his feet scurried over to referees during a second-quarter timeout in the Magic game, the savvy spokesman contending that Matt Barnes shouldn't have received a technical foul for throwing the ball off the basket stanchion and pointing out that Barnes wasn't upset with the officiating.
"When we were in Boston, a guy threw the ball against the stanchion and I told the official, 'That's a tech,' " Paul said. "And the referee was like, 'It's not anymore.' … So I just wanted some kind of consistency."
Paul has been a whirlwind of activity for someone sidelined more than two weeks by a bruised right kneecap, prodding his teammates to keep a healthy outlook even though fellow starters Blake Griffin and Chauncey Billups, plus super sub Jamal Crawford, have also sat out stretches because of injuries.
He could be back to leading in his preferred capacity as soon as the Clippers' game against the Miami Heat on Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena after practicing with his teammates here Thursday.
The six-time All-Star can't wait to resume shooting jumpers, throwing alley-oop passes and finding a way to make the right play in the fourth quarter while considerably improving his mood.
"Anybody who knows me knows I've been miserable the past however many games I've been out," Paul said while sitting in a black leather courtside seat inside the Heat's arena, a bag of ice wrapped around each knee. "Like, seriously. This is my life. This is what I love to do. This is my happy place and when I don't get a chance to play, I can be a very bitter person."
It has been a slog at times, the Clippers losing six of nine games in their most recent stint without Paul, whose injury has forced him to miss 12 of his team's last 14 games.
Making matters worse, the Clippers had a chance to pull out a win in the fourth quarter of several recent games before things went wildly astray without their best player. Paul's absence has enhanced his most-valuable-player candidacy in some quarters, his value to the Clippers never more evident than in the last few weeks.
Of course, he would rather show everyone his meaning while on the court.
"I just need to play," he said. "I'm very impatient. Very impatient. And I know that about myself. I'd do anything to get back on the court."
Paul said his knee is "definitely better" than it was late last month, when he returned for two games only for the pain to intensify and sideline him for a much longer stretch.
He is being much more cautious this time.
"You don't want it to be something that's lingering all season," he said. "I'm just trying to make sure it's right."
The Clippers have fallen from the second seeding in the Western Conference to the No. 3 spot without Paul, though the point guard said the standings don't matter now with his team on the brink of being at full strength for the first time this season.
Nothing that Paul has seen in recent weeks has caused him to waver in his expectations for what is widely hailed as the greatest collection of Clippers ever assembled.
"I know for us," he said, "our plan is to make sure we win our last game."
But will that be Paul's last game as a Clipper, considering he is a free agent this summer.
The player who has single-handedly changed the Clippers' culture, while unexpectedly coming to enjoy the L.A. lifestyle, declined to say much about his future, which could hinge in part on whether the organization decides to retain Coach Vinny Del Negro, who is in the last year of his contract.
"I think he is just like myself — living in the moment, you know what I mean, and cross that bridge when he comes to it," Paul said. "For me, it's just about the moment, it's about right now and what we're doing."
Paul stands to make $107.3 million over five seasons if he re-signs with the Clippers as opposed to $79.7 million over four years by signing with another team with room under the salary cap.
Those numbers represent little more than mumbo jumbo to someone more focused on the 16 victories his team will need come playoff time.
"Right now, I'm a Clipper and I'm a die-hard Clipper and that's all I concentrate on and all I think about," Paul said. "I love the way our team is, the culture is, very family-oriented and I think for us we're all about moving forward and enjoying everything that takes place.
"We're blessed and fortunate to be in the situation that we're in and we're just trying to enjoy it."
It figures to be a lot more pleasurable the moment Paul steps back onto the court, a franchise on the rise finally able to exhale.