Flashy Griffin soars, taking Clippers with him

BY foxsports • February 2, 2011

Blake Griffin was supposed to get this started last season; instead he broke his left kneecap in the final preseason game.

He was worth the wait.

Griffin's got the Los Angeles Clippers - a punchline of a franchise for years - actually winning, with nine consecutive victories at home heading into Wednesday night's game against Chicago at Staples Center. Overall, they've won nine of 13.

Griffin is doing it with a combination of brute athleticism, an array of flashy YouTube-worthy dunks and solid passing. He's averaging 22.8 points, 12.7 rebounds (fourth in the league) and 3.6 assists.

The No. 1 pick in the 2009 NBA draft also produces double-doubles almost nightly, with 39 so far, including a stretch of 27 in a row that ended last month. He'll find out Thursday if he's the first rookie All-Star since Yao Ming of Houston in 2002-03.

''You hear how much looser everybody is and how much fun we're having,'' he said. ''If you get double-doubles and you lose every day, that's not fun at all.''

Griffin's numbers earned him Western Conference rookie of the month honors for the third straight month in January, when he led all rookies in scoring and rebounding.

''Early on, it looked like (Washington guard John) Wall was going to run away with all the attention and rookie of the year,'' Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said, ''then all of a sudden this guy exploded with all these great plays. And now the team is playing better.''

Twice this season, Griffin has scored 40 or more points, making him the first rookie to do so since Allen Iverson in 1996-97.

''He definitely should be in the All-Star game, without a doubt,'' said Milwaukee's Corey Maggette, a former Clipper. ''He's one of those special players, like LeBron.''

Griffin is already committed to the All-Star dunk contest and was selected to play in the Rookie Challenge game.

Hindering his bid to add All-Star to his name is the fact that the Clippers are well below .500, but have knocked off some of the league's best, including Oklahoma City, West-leading San Antonio and Chicago. They dispatched Miami and the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers within a five-day span last month.

''I'm confident with our team and our talent,'' he said. ''The key for us is keep learning.''

That's something Griffin is always doing. The 21-year-old forward is still figuring out when to assert himself and how to improve his shot selection, which isn't always high percentage. Griffin relishes getting physical with opposing defenses, a tactic he said makes him more comfortable.

''I know I have to work on defensive things, but it's not all going to come at one time,'' he said.

With every breathtaking vertical leap, Griffin is bringing hope to a beleaguered Clipper Nation that hasn't experienced a winning season since 2005-06, also the last time the team made the playoffs.

Comic Billy Crystal, a 20-year season ticketholder, voices the fear that torments every fan of the team known for its Clipper Curse involving a wretched mix of losing, injuries, coaching changes, tightwad ownership and unhappy players.

''I just hope they can keep this together and not screw it up,'' he said.

Griffin has already experienced the so-called curse as a result of his knee injury, which resulted in a year of grueling rehabilitation, practice and riding the bench.

Like most Clipper fans, Crystal watches Griffin with a mix of breathless anticipation and fear that the rookie's hard-charging style will cause another devastating injury.

''I'm just praying nothing happens to him,'' Crystal said. ''I've never seen anyone play this hard with that kind of raw recklessness and skill since Larry Bird - all-out and passionate. He's made everybody better.''

Yet he's not a one-man show.

Veteran point guard Baron Davis is having his best season in three years with the team and willingly defers to Griffin and Eric Gordon, a duo regarded as the cornerstones of the franchise.

Gordon, whose 24.1-point average ranks eighth in the league, was having a breakout season until he sprained his right wrist recently. Randy Foye has proven a worthy replacement, while DeAndre Jordan, like Gordon a third-year pro, has emerged as a shot-blocking powerhouse starting in place of injured center Chris Kaman.

''We have our game plan and for the most part we've done a good job executing our game plan,'' Griffin said. ''The biggest part is different guys stepping up at different times and just hitting big shots, getting a steal, getting a block. Teams can't just key in on one or two guys.''

The Clippers began the season with a 1-13 record, largely due to a rash of injuries and having three rookies in the starting lineup. But things began turning around in mid-December after they lost four in a row.

''We want to start establishing something new,'' Davis said. ''We all believe in each other and you can see that when we're on the floor.''

After Wednesday night, they clear out of Staples Center to make way for the Grammy Awards with a 10-game trip. The Clippers are just 3-15 on the road, although seven of their most recent losses away from home were by 10 points or less.

Griffin has taken on a leadership role within the team, unafraid to send the message that what happened in the past is over and the future is what matters.

''They've become a very confident team,'' Carlisle said. ''One of the reasons is because every night they have a Superman-type guy that's going to make breathtaking plays and energize them. It's all legit.''

Griffin has been compared to everyone from Amare Stoudemire to Moses Malone to Charles Barkley.

''He's still a young kid and everyone wants to compare him to different guys, but that's unfair,'' first-year Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. ''Let him be Blake Griffin. He's got a long, exciting career ahead of him.''

Fans have learned not to take their eyes off Griffin lest they miss a second of his dunkfests or his stare downs after he slams the ball home.

''He's better than advertised,'' said Milwaukee's Keyon Dooling, who toiled for the Clippers in their bad old days. ''He has an all-around game. He's got a chance to be one of the best players ever at his position, if not the best.''


AP Sports Writer Jaime Aron in Dallas contributed to this report.

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