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Wesley Johnson (left heel contusion) set to return tonight vs. Raptors

The L.A. Clippers have played the last five games without their athletic swingman off the bench, Wesley Johnson, as he dealt with a left heel contusion. After Saturday night’s comeback victory over the Chicago Bulls, Johnson said he was hopeful to return for today’s game against the Toronto Raptors. After Monday morning shootaround, Johnson confirmed his return to the court as DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and the Raptors play their lone game against the Clippers in L.A.

“I am playing” said Johnson when asked if he would make his return tonight.

Johnson suffered the injury in the first game of the back-to-back set at Oklahoma City on November 11th. L.A. went on to win four of the five games he missed, but the team clearly missed the athleticism and floor-spacing off the bench. The hardest part for Johnson, as is for any athlete dealing with injury, is not to rush a return without being 100%, or at least close to full health.

“Just the waiting game, just playing it by ear and taking it day by day,” said Johnson on the return process. “Listening to the training staff telling me when I could and just trying to listen to my body. Mostly, it was just playing the waiting game.

You want to be out there, good or the bad, you still want to be out there competing with the team but they’ve been doing well. I’m eager to get back out there.”

In their first nine games of the season, the Clippers were the NBA’s best defensive team allowing only 90.4 points per game and 91 points per 100 possessions.

The Clippers’ starting starting five of Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan held opponents to just 84.1 points per 100 possessions, tops in the NBA at an average of 19.3 minutes per game. Even more impressive in the first nine was the Clippers’ second unit led by defensive-minded Wesley Johnson. The lineup that included Raymond Felton, Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, Johnson, and Marreese Speights held opponents to an astounding 91.1 points per 100 possessions.

In the five games Johnson has missed, however, the Clippers’ defense seems to have suffered with a lot of the opponents’ points coming at the expense of the bench. As a team, the Clippers have fallen to allow 106.7 points per possession, and although many consider it hard to sustain, Johnson could help L.A. get back to their early-season defense. From an individual standpoint, all five Clipper starters are in the top 11 in defensive rating for players with at least nine games played. Sitting at number 12 and leading the Clipper bench, unsurprisingly, is Wesley Johnson.

Raymond Felton, for one, is happy to have Johnson back with the second unit that locked opposing offenses down.

“Well we just had to [adjust]. When he was out, the defense was a whole lot different. We could switch a whole lot more, you got a more athletic guy with longer arms and then he spaces the floor for us also on offense. So its a different ballgame when he’s on the court so we had to adjust to him being out. He’s back tonight, so we can go back to what we’ve been doing.”

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