Clippers begin life without Griffin by playing Blazers
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Clippers have played without Blake Griffin for a full month at one point this season, but come Tuesday night at Staples Center, taking the court without him will become permanent.
Griffin was traded to the Detroit Pistons on Monday, giving the Clippers only a day to construct a gameplan for the Portland Trail Blazers in Los Angeles.
The Clippers did receive Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley in return, but Bradley is dealing with a groin injury, and it is unknown if Harris will be in L.A. in time to help the Clippers as soon as Tuesday.
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The move marks the continuation of one strange season in Los Angeles. It started this summer with Griffin signing a lucrative free-agent deal to remain with the Clippers, but once the season began, team-wide injuries took their toll.
The Clippers (25-24) have done well to enter Tuesday’s game ninth in the Western Conference, and one spot out of playoff eligibility. Their hopes of reaching the playoffs seem daunting now.
The Trail Blazers, on the other hand, are feeling better about their playoff prospects as each day passes. Facing a Clippers team without Griffin seems to only increase the chances that their recent run of success will continue.
A rejuvenated offense has helped Portland to five victories over their past six games. They have consecutive victories over the Minnesota Timberwolves and Dallas Mavericks, and having not played since Friday means they are coming to Los Angeles well rested.
Going back to December, the Trail Blazers have won 11 of their past 17 games and will face the Clippers with a 27-22 record, while holding the seventh spot in the Western Conference.
“I think we’re in a good place,” Blazers point guard Damian Lillard said, according to the Portland Oregonian. “Considering the ups and downs we’ve had so far this season, being five games over .500 … I think looking at our last two years we haven’t been in this position.
“Regardless of what happened, we haven’t been in this position and playing well. I think we’re playing our best basketball.”
Helping matters Tuesday will be the return of starting forward Evan Turner, who missed Friday’s victory at Dallas because of personal reasons. Their only injury of note is to guard C.J. Wilcox, who has been out all season with a knee injury.
The Clippers will be missing more than Griffin on Tuesday. Guard Jawun Evans is day-to-day with an abdomen injury, while guard Austin Rivers remains out with an ankle issue. Forward Danilo Gallinari has been out much of the season with a glute injury, but is at least questionable for Tuesday’s game.
Questions remain about the status of center DeAndre Jordan and guard Lou Williams, both of whom have surfaced in trade rumors. Whether or not the Griffin deal is the start of a Clippers fire sale remains to be seen, but reports indicate that more deals could be near.
Only a few weeks ago, the Clippers looked like the kind of hard-working team fans could rally around. Even the front office sounded convinced.
“I think it’s amazing, I really do,” Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank recently told Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times. “There is an element of surprise. It’s one of the real feel-good stories in the NBA.”
As the Trail Blazers arrive in L.A., a whole lot has changed.