Back spasms force Blake Griffin to leave after playing just six minutes against Rockets

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The Clippers overcame an early 15-point deficit in Houston to clinch a playoff spot with a double-digit win over the Rockets, but it was anything but easy.

Houston was playing without Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley, so L.A. should have had a relatively stress-free night at the office. But Blake Griffin was forced to leave after playing just six minutes due to back spasms, which is going to be a huge cause for concern as the team enters the final few weeks of the regular season.

From Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles:

Griffin departed with 5:48 left in the first quarter. He was grabbing his lower back as he walked off the court and continued to hold it as he bit his jersey in the Clippers’ huddle during a timeout. He then limped off the court with Clippers trainer Jasen Powell to the locker room. …

Griffin has been dealing with hip issues recently, and Rivers believes that led to the back injury.

“It was his hip yesterday, it had nothing do with his back, but I think that’s what triggered it,” Rivers said. “Whatever was going on before, that’s what triggered the back injury. It scared the hell out of me because I’ve had that reaction myself. That’s a back injury. They don’t think it’s awful, but it’s a back injury.”

While it’s too early to panic, back spasms can be extremely unpredictable and difficult for an athlete to deal with. Kevin Garnett is obviously much further along in his career, but he’s been dealing with the same injury for weeks now with no end in sight.

Griffin has been the best player on the Clippers for the bulk of the season, and once you get past guys named Kevin Durant and LeBron James, he’s high on the list of players in that next tier who would deserve to be in the MVP conversation. It goes without saying that L.A. will need him at full strength once the postseason begins, otherwise another first round playoff exit is almost assuredly on the horizon.

Marreese Speights opts out of Clippers contract

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The Clippers are unraveling.

Of course, whether they can re-sign Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the big questions. But they also must deal with smaller matters in free agency – like Marreese Speights.

Speights will opt out, his agent tweeted:

The Clippers will hold Speights’ Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), allowing them to give him a starting salary up to $2,540,346 without using cap space or the mid-level exception.

The 29-year-old Speights, a stretch five who takes charges, fits the modern NBA. He could probably get more if he seeks it.

The Clippers won’t have cap space unless they lose Paul and Griffin, and at that point, re-signing a veteran like Speights is of little use. So, it would likely require the taxpayer mid-level exception or Speights taking a discount to keep him.

Luc Mbah a Moute can and likely will also opt out, and he’ll fall in the same Non-Bird situation. The Clippers would likely prioritize their mid-level exception for him – if it’s enough for either player.

Keeping Paul and Griffin is of the utmost importance, but that’s not the Clippers’ only challenge. Even if they keep those two stars, assembling even a decent supporting cast will difficult. Possibly losing J.J. Redick is the main issue there, but handling Speights’ and Mbah a Moute’s roster spots will also be pivotal.

Warriors struggle to get Zaza Pachulia’s 2017 NBA Finals hat on his big head (video)

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Zaza Pachulia became the villain of the Western Conference finals when he injured Kawhi Leonard and torpedoed the Spurs chances of upsetting the Warriors.

But his teammates stood by him – then shared this fun moment with him after Golden State won the West.

Reporter asks Spanish-speaking Manu Ginobili whether he just announced retirement (video)

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Manu Ginobili received an emotional sendoff in the Spurs’ season-ending – and maybe Ginobili’s career-ending – loss to the Warriors last night.

The postgame press conference featured a lighthearted moment when, after the Argentinian guard answered a couple questions in Spanish, an American reporter – not wanting to miss big news – asked whether Ginobili had just announced his retirement.

No, Ginobili assured the reporter. He says he plans to take a few weeks to consider his options.

Warriors make most dominant playoff run ever to NBA Finals

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Moses Malone famously predicted the 76ers team would go “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” in the 1983 playoffs, sweeping all three rounds in four games. Philadelphia didn’t quite do it – sweeping the Knicks, beating the Bucks in five then sweeping the Lakers for the title.

Thirty-four years later, an NBA team went “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” for the first time.

Golden State swept the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Spurs in four-game series. But with an extra playoff round, the Warriors’ 12-0 run merely gets them to the Finals.

It’s the ninth undefeated run to the Finals, third since the league adopted four playoff rounds in 1984 and first since the first round became best-of-seven. The Lakers went 11-0 in the playoffs en route to the Finals in 2001 and 1989.

By winning an extra game and outscoring opponents by 16.3 points per game, Golden State now claims the most dominant postseason run to the NBA Finals ever.

Here are the top paths to the Finals, with Finals results, by playoff…

Record (point difference per game in parentheses):

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Point difference per game (record in parentheses):

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This doesn’t guarantee Golden State a championship. The Cavaliers (10-1, +11.9) are on track for an elite run to the Finals themselves, and they have LeBron James.

But the Warriors put ridiculous expectations on themselves by signing Kevin Durant to join a 73-win team featuring Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. I’m unsure a Golden State title this year will be properly appreciated, but so far, the Warriors are doing all they can to clear a bar set unreasonably high.