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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.

Isaiah Thomas with no-look, behind-the-back pass to Jae Crowder (VIDEO)

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Think the Celtics didn’t miss Isaiah Thomas? They lost three of four when he was out recently, and won both games since he returned.

Thomas had 23 points and the Magic Johnson-like behind-the-back, no-look pass to Jae Crowder to help spark the Celtics to a 105-95 road win over the Heat.

Thomas also was ejected for a flagrant-2 foul when he elbowed the face of Justise Winslow with 3:02 left in the game. It was just a swing-through move trying to create space and it didn’t appear intentional. I doubt we will see a fine for this.

Watch the highlights of Tim Duncan’s jersey retirement ceremony

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It was an emotional night in San Antonio.

They retired the No. 21 of the greatest player in franchise history — and the greatest power forward in NBA history — Tim Duncan. Gregg Popovich was emotional. Tony Parker was fantastic. And Duncan was… funny.

Above catch the highlights of a big night. Below, watch Popovich almost come to tears, and see Duncan’s speech.

Report: Blake Griffin to undergo minor knee surgery, miss at least several weeks

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The Los Angeles Clippers have been 18.4 points per 100 possessions better when Blake Griffin is on the court this season. He’s played the best defense of his career, and while his offense lacks the highlights he used to generate seemingly nightly he has become incredibly diversified and efficient on that end.

Now we’re going to see how the Clippers play without him for a while. From Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Griffin played 38 minutes Sunday, but has been playing through left knee pain.

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.

This also could cost Griffin a lot of money.

Joel Embiid sets career high with 33 points, goes flying into stands in win

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Joel Embiid is improving night after night.

He took another big step Sunday, setting a career high 33 points to lead the Sixers past the Brooklyn Nets 108-107. Although the play everyone is talking about is the one above, where Embiid tipped a post entry pass, then went flying into the stands to chase the loose ball, stepping on one fan then landing on another. Said fan was okay and Embiid did apologize to him for using him as a step stool.

Just don’t forget about the overall picture on Embiid’s big night. He hit 12-of-17 shots to get his 33 points, and while most of that damage was done in the paint, he was 3-of-6 in the midrange and 2-of-3 on straight-away three-pointers. He’s got range.