Paul suffered a left hamstring strain in Game 7 of the first round series clash with the San Antonio Spurs last Saturday and has missed the first two games of the Houston tie with the problem.
The Los Angeles Clippers were able to win Game 1 without the star point guard, but were unable to overcome the Rockets, who even the series at 1-1 with the Game 2 victory on Wednesday night.
Doc Rivers opted to give his team a day off from regular squad practice session on Thursday with only a 24-hours break between Game 2 and 3, but Paul workout on the day as he step up his recovery from the muscle injury.
Rivers was happy with the progress of his All-Star point guard, but revealed that his status for Friday night remains questionable.
“Those are the right steps. Everything is going well,” Rivers said. “My guess is it’s going to come down to the eye and feel test.
“With hamstrings, there really is no gauge.”
The Clippers were looking good through the first two-and-a-half quarter to take a 2-0 lead during Game 3, but the Rockets rallied from a 13-point deficit through James Harden to take the precious home win, 115-109.
“Definitely feels like we let one get away,” Los Angeles’ Blake Griffin said. “We came here to win two, but we’re going back with home court now. Got to protect home court.”
Blake was also critical of the way the Clippers failed to adjust Houston’s defensive tactics in the Game 2 defeat.
“Front-and-back double team. I wouldn’t say they spaced it out. They clogged it up, to be honest,” Griffin said about the home side’s tactics.
“We have to do a better job of reading that and reacting off of it. I have to do a better job of moving off the ball to get open.”
Blake scored 34 points and pulled down 15 defensive rebounds in Game 2, but he and his Clippers teammates were unable to hold out, as Harden scored 34 points and Dwight Howard added 24 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks with one turnover in the win for Houston.
After losing Game 1, Harden admits that the Rockets were determined not to go down 2-0 in the series, as Trevor Ariza (15), Corey Brewer (11), Jason Terry and Terrence Jones (10) all scored in double digits.
“We let Game 1 slip away and we didn’t want that feeling for Game 2,” Harden said. “It’s going to be a tough two games in a row, but we’ve got our mojo now.”
He added: “We got momentum going into Game 3. Guys are prepared now.”
Both teams shot over 40-percent from the field, but struggled from three-point range in Game 2, with the Clippers going 6-for-25 and Houston shooting 5-for-26 from long-range.
Chicago Bulls Take On Cleveland Cavaliers At Home
In Friday night’s other NBA playoffs contest, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, smarting from their Game 2 win, will take on the Chicago Bulls when Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series move to the United Center.
James opened brightly and aggressively in Game 2 on his way to scoring 33 points to go along with his eight rebounds and five assists in the 106-91 victory for the Cavs, who dropped the opening game of the series.
Cleveland will have starting guard J.R. Smith available from his two-game suspension and he is liked return to the starting lineup, which means James Jones, who scored 17 points and hit 5 of his 9 three-point attempts and Mike Miller, will see a reduction in their game minutes.
At the same time, the Cavaliers could be without Iman Shumpert, who is dealing with a groin problem.
Shumpert, who scored 15 points and hit 4-of-7 from 3s, tweaked his groin in Game 2 and will test the problem during Friday’s shootaround before head coach David Blatt makes a decision over his participation, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.
The Chicago Bulls, which never trailed in Game 1, were put to the sword from the opening minutes of Game 2 and were down 38-18 at the end of the first quarter.
Three-times the travelers found themselves trailing by 21 points in Wednesday’s clash, with James doing most of the early damage on a night when he brought back his familiar headband fashion.
Recently named NBA’s Most Improved Player Jimmy Bultler, who scored a team high 18 points in Game 2, believes he must do better at being more aggressive if he wants to avoid a repeat of the 5-of-14 shooting display from Game 2.
“I have to man up and take the challenge,” Butler, who has been given the task of marking James said.
“LeBron was aggressive, but I wasn’t aggressive enough.
“I was counting too much on help being there, which is on me. I will be better.”
Chicago point guard Derrick Rose was only 6-of-20 from the floor in Game 2, as he ended with 14 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds.
Pau Gasol (3-of-8) from 11 points and Aaron Brooks (1-of-8) for four points, were both very disappointing in Game 2’s defeat and must show up on Friday or the Bulls could find themselves down 2-1.