- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul returned to the court on Sunday after an 18-game absence and said Monday he felt fine and will be on the court this Sunday in New Orleans for the NBA All-Star Game.
Paul was sidelined for over a month after separating his right shoulder on Jan. 3 and was originally slated to miss up to six weeks but was able to return in five weeks. He had previously said he planned on playing in the All-Star Game but getting healthy was always his top priority.
“It’s one of those things where it was all about me getting healthy,” Paul said. “Even though the All-Star Game is an honor and a privilege, for me, it’s more important to be healthy and be out there for my team and my teammates. The All-Star Game was second on that list but I feel good.”
This year’s All-Star Game in New Orleans has special significance for Paul because he played his first six seasons with the New Orleans Hornets and made his All-Star debut in 2008 when the game was also held in New Orleans.
“It’s New Orleans,” Paul said. “Anybody who knows me knows how much I love the city and miss the city of New Orleans. It’s not Bourbon Street; it’s not the beignets that make the city of New Orleans. It’s the people. As much as I’m excited to get down to New Orleans for All-Star weekend, the thing I’m most excited about is seeing those familiar faces that became a part of my family.”
Paul was voted into the All-Star Game as a reserve but could possibly start the game. Kobe Bryant, who was voted in as a starter, will miss the game and Western Conference coach Scott Brooks of Oklahoma City will decide who replaces Bryant in the starting lineup this week.
Paul only played 23 minutes in his return game on Sunday and had 7 points, 8 assists and 4 steals but that was all the Clippers needed as they beat the Philadelphia 76ers, 123-78. Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before the game that he had no issue with Paul playing in the All-Star Game and actually encouraged it.
“I like him playing in the All-Star Game, personally,” Rivers said. “I think this is a rare case where he's ready to play and the All-Star Game is probably the safest venue for him to play. I think it will just be a good thing for him to get up and down. It allows him to go up and down in an NBA game with really good players that don't play defense in the game so I think that would be very good.”
Paul said he will arrive in New Orleans on Thursday after the Clippers play the Portland Trailblazers on Wednesday and will be there until Monday with his family. Paul said his first order of business will be to visit his “CP3 Afterschool Zone” on Thursday afternoon.
“Those kids that are in the school are a part of me,” Paul said. “Every time we come back and play in New Orleans, I get them tickets to the game so they can come and watch. I still have a lot of extended family there. My sister-in-law was born and raised in New Orleans. My entire family is coming with me to New Orleans for the All-Star Game. My family pastor is still in New Orleans and I’m actually christening my daughter and my brother is going to christen his two twins.”