Blake Down, Clips Out?

by Spencer Suk

In case you missed it, here is a five second summary of L.A.’s eight game road trip so far:

-Game 1: Started trip on a good note, taking care of business against the Jazz

-Game 2: Lost a close one to a Pelicans team sans Anthony Davis

-Game 3: Won by 20 against the Spurs (arguably the best win of the season)

-Game 4: Blew a 9 point lead against the Nets with just 1:35 left to play

-Game 5: Demolished by the Cavs (don’t be fooled by the final score; Cavs led by 32 in the third, resting everyone in the fourth)

-Game 6: Started off hot, leading by 20 in the first, but the Raptors turned it on, outscoring the Clips 76-45 in the second and third quarters

-Game 7: Stood no chance against the Thunder (Mitch McGary had 19 points and 10 rebounds in the 131-108 pounding; he had 3 points and 4 rebounds on the entire season before that)

The road trip concludes in Dallas tonight, but the nightmare doesn’t: Blake Griffin will need surgery on his elbow due to a staph infection.  He is expected to miss two to six weeks, which is bad news considering how jammed up the playoff race is in the West this year.  By the time Blake gets back on the court, it wouldn’t be crazy if the Clippers were on the outside looking in. Here’s why:

The Offense

Disclaimer: Do NOT try to watch the entire clip below!!! At most, skip around.  I just thought it was cool/nerdy/insane that some guy put together a video of every single set the Clippers run. On a side note, the music might be the only thing worse than the length of the video.

Griffin is the centerpiece of the Clippers’ offense, and without him, their system just isn’t the same.  His scoring and ability to create good looks, for both himself and his teammates, are what make the team go.  When you take Griffin out of the starting lineup, there just isn’t anyone who can carry the Clippers’ offense on a consistent basis; you’re essentially left with spot-up shooters (Matt Barnes and J.J. Redick) and a big man who can do little outside of dunking the ball (DeAndre Jordan).  

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No, I didn’t forget about our point guard.  While Chris Paul remains as one of the best at his position, he doesn’t singlehandedly take over games anymore.  Rather, he picks his spots and chips in a couple of buckets per quarter, spending most of his energy setting up his teammates. This is fine when you have a go-to scorer like Griffin, but in his absence, CP3 will likely have to force the issue and try to take on more of the scoring load.  

The Big Man Rotation

If there is a silver lining to Blake’s injury, it’s that Spencer Hawes might be able to find his groove by playing more minutes as a starter.  He easily had his best offensive showing of the year against OKC, scoring a season-high 17 points (all in the first half).  However, it’s worth noting that he played some pretty lousy defense while failing to grab more than one rebound in 35 minutes.

With Hawes moving into the starting lineup, an already subpar bench is going to get even weaker.  It didn’t help that Glen “Big Baby” Davis went down in the OKC game with back spasms.  If he misses extended time, Doc Rivers may be forced to give Ekpe Udoh some serious run (yikes).

Maybe it’s time to look for outside help.  Rivers cleared some roster space in a series of moves to acquire his son, Austin, giving the Clips the option to sign a vet should the opportunity present itself.  If Amar’e Stoudemire and the Knicks agree to a buyout, he could be an attractive option to help the team survive while Griffin is sidelined.

The Schedule

The timing couldn’t be worse.  Just by glancing at the schedule, it’s easy to see how many playoff teams the Clippers have to play while Blake is on the mend.  Since we don't know exactly how long Griffin will be out, I broke the schedule down into two, four and six week intervals.

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The Clippers are just 12-14 against teams with winning records.  And that’s with Blake Griffin.  If he misses a full six weeks, the Clippers are looking at 14 games against opponents that are at least .500.  Considering Los Angeles is just five and a half games ahead of the Pelicans (9th in West) and six and a half games ahead of the Thunder (10th in West), the playoff race is going to be that much tighter.  

Ultimately, I expect that the Clippers will find their way back into the playoffs.  Hopefully, Griffin can make a speedy recovery and help the team during their toughest stretch of the season. However, Clipper Nation should be on the edge of their seats because there are no guarantees in the West when your best player goes down.