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.