Brand might be ready to play in final games of Clippers' season
And for the first time, coach Mike Dunleavy was willing to put down a specific timetable for Brand's return to game action, eyeing the last five to eight games of the season.
"If we can get him then, it'll be great. If we can't, we'll see what we can get," Dunleavy told The Los Angeles Times. "More conditioning needs to be done for sure, but it's a good first step. It's the first time he's been up and down at all, as far as banging with contact. All the drill work looks good, running up and down with nobody hitting you. Now it's being able to get to the point to really compete."
That's some potentially bad news for the Rockets, Nuggets, Lakers, Warriors and Hornets. Those are the Clippers last six opponents and they're all jockeying for spots in the tightly packed Western Conference playoff race.
The Clippers playing spoiler? It may not be a joke.
"Hey, we got spoiled last season, so if we could do that, we'd love to," Brand said before Los Angeles' game against the Mavericks. "We're there to play. If I can be out there and contribute to our team getting some wins, I want to do it."
The Clippers have 12 games left. Dunleavy said Brand might be able to play as many as eight, which would mean April 2 at Seattle. The Clippers are at Sacramento the next night.
After those games against fellow also-rans, Los Angeles returns home to play Houston, Denver and the Lakers. Then the Clippers end the season on the road against the Warriors, Hornets and Rockets.
"We've been ultraconservative with this," Dunleavy said. "We're not bringing him back soon by any means. ... If he didn't feel like he wasn't ready do it, then I wouldn't want to do it. He's the one who's champing at the bit. So we'll see how it goes."
The Clippers made the playoffs two seasons ago and were in the chase all the way to the final week last season. With three games left, Los Angeles and Golden State were tied for the final spot. The Warriors went 3-0 and the Clippers 1-2.
Then Brand went down Aug. 3 and Los Angeles has been a non-factor this season.
"We've really regressed," said Brand, among the few active players with a career average of 20 points and 10 rebounds. "This year, it's like we didn't have a chance."
A return is the latest twist in the Brand recovery story, a side element of which is Brand's contract status. He can opt out of the last season of his contract this summer, becoming a free agent. So making his return sooner rather than later would give other teams a chance to take a look at him.
Brand has insisted that is not the case, however.
"I don't know how the offseason works, but I'm sure [other teams] could see me somehow without playing and have enough confidence in my ability that I can still play," Brand told The Times on March 9. "So I don't think I need to come back to showcase myself to other teams."
When he returned to practice the first week of March -- participating in half-court and one-on-one drills only -- he was aiming to get into a game by midmonth. Dunleavy quickly quashed that, saying he wanted to see Brand dominate in a practice before he could be considered ready for a game.
Last week, it was Brand whose optimism had dimmed somewhat, with the Clippers long out of the playoff picture and the team not engaged in extended full-court practices, which Brand would need to get ready.
"You want to go over the other team's plays and things like that, but we really don't have five-on-five settings as much as I would like to, so we'll see," Brand said March 18 in The Times.
On Monday, things were looking up again.
"My feelings are, if you didn't know I was out for a while and watching the practice, I fit in pretty well," Brand said in The Times, adding that his Achilles is 100 percent. "It's totally healed now. Now it's just pushing it and just playing."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.