Blake Griffin’s injury throws Clippers’ playoff plans into question

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In the Western Conference, everybody is one injury away. The bottom of the playoff seeding was already a bloodbath, with the Phoenix Suns fending off the New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder for the eighth spot. Now, Sunday’s news that Blake Griffin could miss four to six weeks with a staph infection in his right elbow adds another team to the list of those who will be fighting for their lives: the Clippers.

Currently, the Clips sit at sixth in the West with a 33-18 record. They have six games of wiggle room over the ninth-place Pelicans, and seven and a half over the 10th-place Thunder.

Assuming a best-case scenario where Griffin misses four weeks, here’s what the Clippers have on deck without him:

  • Today (Sunday, Feb. 8) at Oklahoma City
  • Monday at Dallas
  • Wednesday vs. Houston
  • February 19 vs. San Antonio
  • February 21 vs. Sacramento
  • February 23 vs. Memphis
  • February 27 at Houston
  • March 1 at Chicago
  • March 2 at Minnesota
  • March 4 vs. Portland
  • March 8 at Golden State

That’s the starting point for games Griffin is expected to miss. If his timeline extends towards the six-week end of the spectrum, you add:

  • March 9 vs. Minnesota
  • March 11 at Oklahoma City
  • March 13 at Dallas
  • March 15 vs. Houston
  • March 17 vs. Charlotte
  • March 18 at Sacramento
  • March 20 vs. Washington
  • March 22 vs. New Orleans

That’s 19 games total. Of those, nine are against teams currently slated to make the playoffs in the West. That’s not counting three additional games against Oklahoma City and New Orleans, two teams who will be fighting for the final spot in the playoffs. Add two more games against Washington and Chicago, Eastern Conference playoff contenders, and things start to look ugly for the Clippers.

The truth of the matter is, the Clippers don’t have the depth to withstand a long-term injury to Griffin. J.J. Redick is out, too, which decimates their roster. Outside of Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and DeAndre Jordan, the roster is not pretty. Spencer Hawes will start in Griffin’s place, and he’s been a disaster so far. Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu will see their minutes increase. Redick’s absence means more minutes for Austin Rivers.

The Clippers’ best hope is to hit the buyout market. Reports have surfaced in recent days that Amar’e Stoudemire could ask the Knicks for a buyout, and he’d be a good short-term replacement for Griffin. But he can’t play the extended minutes Griffin does at his age and with his knees being what they are.

Hopefully, Griffin’s recovery is quick and his time missed is on the shorter end of the spectrum. If that happens, the Clippers should be able to salvage the end of the season and secure a playoff spot. But with how competitive the conference is, and how tough their upcoming schedule is, there’s really no margin for error now.

Thunder drop 148 points on defenseless Cavaliers, win in rout

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If you wondered why Cleveland is so active in the trade market as the deadline nears — and why they are hunting out guys who can play defense — all you had to do was watch the Thunder dismantle the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon on national television, 148-124.

The Thunder went into Quicken Loans Arena and list of offensive accolades is long (and ugly if you’re a Cleveland fan):

• Oklahoma City dropped 148 points.

• Oklahoma City shot 58 percent overall.

• Oklahoma City shot 46.7 percent from three.

• Oklahoma City got 44 percent of its shots within four feet of the rim.

• Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 88 points.

• Westbrook had 23 points and 20 assists.

• Paul George had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Steven Adams had 25 points and 10 rebounds.

• Westbrook, George, Adams, and Anthony combined for 113 points on 66 shots.

To be fair, this was also about the Thunder playing one of their most complete offensive games of the season. They moved the ball beautifully, there wasn’t the “your turn/my turn” issues from earlier this season.

For a team still unsure of its identity and looking for validation, this game provided it.

It also provided another glimpse into the troubles in Cleveland.

Last season the Cavaliers counted on an exceptional offense to cover up for a defense that was decent when they cared and horrific when they didn’t, but when it got time in the playoffs Cleveland was able to flip the switch (it just wasn’t enough in the Finals). LeBron James has another gear and was able to lift his teammates up with it.

This season, they don’t seem to know where the switch is. The good defensive habits they had built over time seem lost and forgotten, as they run out a litany of minus defenders in their regular rotation.

Cleveland looks like a team that needs help at the trade deadline to ensure it gets out of the East. The question becomes will they throw in the Brooklyn pick to do it? And even if they did, would DeAndre Jordan really solve their issues right now?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo out a couple of games to manage sore knee

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It’s not discussed much, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chronically sore knee that has been an issue since last summer. It’s not debilitating, it doesn’t require surgery, but it’s something Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need to actively manage.

Hence, Antetokounmpo is sitting out the next couple of games. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Monday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns as the team actively manages the health of Antetokounmpo’s sore right knee….

Antetokounmpo’s injury, which is not considered to be tendinitis, is regarded as something that is always going to bother him to some extent, according to a league source. There will be days where the discomfort is higher and some when it’s lower, and the team’s goal is to manage that on a daily basis to keep the injury from becoming severe or significant — something it is not considered to be at this point.

Antetokounmpo is going to get eight days of rest this way, which is the smart long-term move for the Bucks.

The challenge is the Bucks may be sixth in the East as you read this, but they are just one game up on the nine seed Pistons. They need to get wins without Antetokounmpo, which is hard because they have been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they could be without him a lot longer if Antetokounmpo’s knee isn’t managed now.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

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When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.

 

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

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Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

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The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders: