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Three things we learned Sunday: The Clippers enter their annual stretch without Blake Griffin

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The biggest thing to happen in the NBA Sunday? Future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan got his number retired. Gregg Popovich was emotional, and Tim Duncan cracked jokes. It’s a must watch. But we knew Duncan was legendary, here are the things we learned on Sunday in the NBA.

1) Looks like the Clippers will be without Blake Griffin for few weeks, which continues an annual trend. Remember when we were asking if the Clippers could sustain their best-in-the-NBA level of play when they came out of the gate 14-2? Well, they have gone 6-6 since then with a middle-of-the-pack defense. So, no, they couldn’t sustain it.

Now things get worse — Blake Griffin is expected to be out a few weeks for knee surgery, cleaning up some soreness in his left knee. (This is not confirmed yet by the team, which was traveling home Sunday, but very likely will be on Monday.)

Griffin has averaged 21 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game this season. He is part of the second-most used five-man lineup in the NBA, the Clippers starting five — they are outscoring opponents by 16.2 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court. The Clippers numbers drop off fast when the bench gets involved, and it’s going to be involved a lot for the next few weeks.

I know what you’re saying, “but the Clippers always go on a run when Griffin gets his annual injury.” Not sure that happens this season when you look at what happens to the rotations. Doc Rivers will likely start his son Austin Rivers at the three, and slide Luc Mbah a Moute to the four spot giving the Clippers a small lineup that, in theory, can shoot. Then they run a lot of Chris Paul/DeAndre Jordan pick-and-rolls. Which has worked well as an offense in the past, but I’m not sold on the shooting working as well. Plus we likely see a lot more Alan Anderson and Paul Pierce, which is a steep drop off from the defense Griffin was playing.

The injury also could cost Griffin a lot of money. For several years Griffin was a staple on the All-NBA teams, but he didn’t make the cut last year (he was injured much of the season), and this could be a big setback for him as well — the forward spot is very crowded and it was tough to fit him in the six slots before. Now it gets much harder. Why this hurts is that the new “designated player” rule in the CBA that would allow the Clippers to offer a five-year, $207 million deal to Griffin is believed to be tied to the All-NBA team (either the season or two seasons before, although this is not confirmed). If Griffin doesn’t meet the qualifications, the Clippers can’t offer him that extension this summer, costing him about $6 million a season over the course of the contract.

2) Don’t ignore that the Wizards beat the Clippers and have won five of six. While the Clippers seem poised for a slide, the team that beat them Sunday is suddenly hot — the Washington Wizards have won five-of-six and are suddenly 12-14 and just a game back of the final playoff slot in the East.

What’s been behind the surge is the offense – they are 6.6 points per 100 possessions better in these games (the defense has remained basically flat just 0.4 points per 100 possessions better). Sunday it was the Bradley Beal show, he had 41 against Los Angeles.

The Wizards are making this offensive push for a few reasons — they are running more plays for John Wall off the ball, and his quickness makes him a beast off the weakside. Also, the bench — which was an abject disaster early in the season — has found a bit of a rhythm. Kelly Oubre is averaging nine points a game in December, and Trey Burke is looking like the kind of backup point guard the Wizards hoped he would be. Plus, the Wizards are nailing their midrange shots (we’ll see if that’s sustainable). Look at the shot chart from the last six games.

Wizards shotchart

Before the season we thought the Wizards would be a team in the playoff mix in the East, then they quickly looked like the most disappointing team in the league. Now, they are back in that potential playoff mix. Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are having strong seasons, suggesting this isn’t a fluke. Still, sustaining any kind of success has been an issue for the Wizards for years, we will see if it can happen now.

3) It’s been a while since we said, “Damn, Joel Embiid is good.” Time to fix that. Damn, Joel Embiid is good.

He dropped a career-best 33 on the Nets, leading the Sixers to a win on Sunday. Of course he did most of his damage inside, but he knocked down he was 3-of-6 in the midrange and 2-of-3 on straight-away three-pointers. That kind of range makes him tough to guard.

Plus the guy just hustles.

Kobe Bryant still has it, bounces shot in from near half court

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This was a Nike gala, an event with a basketball theme. The court was lit up from below, there were tables at half court, and people had drinks in their hands.

Kobe Bryant was there, stylishly dressed in black. So was famous model Winnie Harlow.

Know that regardless of the setting, Kobe still has game.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelicans Friday

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Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.

Report: Kevin Love was frustrated with move to center

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With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.

That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.

Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.

“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”

Lue put it this way.

“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”

While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.

Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.

Another wing down? Celtics’ Marcus Smart likely out vs. Sixers

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The horrific, probably season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward has left the Celtics with a shortage of players on the wing.

Going up against Philadelphia Friday night, that might be getting worse, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

Looking at the pictures, I doubt Smart plays.

As noted, Smart said he hurt both ankles in the second night of a back-to-back against Milwaukee, the left one in a collision with teammate Jaylen Brown. Smart started that game and played 32 minutes. That’s a lot of time to go to lesser players.

If he’s out Friday, that likely means either Terry Rozier or Abdel Nader get the start, and both are going to see a healthy bump in minutes. Whatever happens, the Celtics would miss Smart in a game where they need to defend Ben Simmons on the wing.