A bruised right kneecap kept Chris Paul from playing in nine consecutive games recently for the Clippers, and it bothered him to miss that much time.
But Paul already knew what could happen if he came back too soon.
Paul first injured the knee on Jan. 12 against the Orlando Magic. He sat out three games, returned and played in two more before reinjuring the knee against the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 21.
And even when Paul returned to the court Friday night against the Miami Heat, he wasn't quite the same player, his rust showing after being out for 17 days.
But he got his groove back in a win against the New York Knicks on Sunday and kept it going with another win against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night.
"I feel like I'm at a point right now where I can't hurt the team," Paul said Monday night after the 76ers game. "In Golden State, when my knee was bothering me, I felt like I hurt the team. Right now I feel like I can't hurt the team."
Paul scored a season-low three points on one-for-five shooting against the Heat.
But in the next two games, he averaged 23 points on 67.8% shooting, including 50% (four of eight) on three-point shots, in 27 minutes per game. He also averaged nine assists and had just two total turnovers.
"I'm getting there," Paul said.
The Clippers are a .500 team this season when Paul doesn't play, posting a 6-6 record when their All-Star point guard is out.
"He controls the whole game," Coach Vinny Del Negro said. "That's what great players do."
In that Miami game, Paul didn't register a steal. But in the next two games, he had a total of nine steals.
"People forget he's a first-team all-defensive guy," Del Negro said. "He causes havoc out there."
The Clippers won at Minnesota to start their eight-game Grammy trip.
But then came consecutive losses at Toronto, Boston and Washington before a win at Orlando. That was followed up with a loss to the defending NBA champion Heat.
Then came another test that the Clippers passed — with wins at New York and Philadelphia.
The Clippers started the trip without Paul and Chauncey Billups (left foot tendinitis) and they lost Blake Griffin (strained left hamstring) for two games and Jamal Crawford (sore right shoulder) for one game.
They also lost Billups, who had returned to the lineup for two games, and Caron Butler for the 76ers game. Each had a sore lower back.
"We were 2-4 at one point," Paul said. "So to finish 4-4, we'll take it."
The Clippers didn't practice Tuesday.
Both Billups and Butler said they hope to play against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center on Wednesday night.