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Report: Blake's Return Targeted for the 20th

Thanks to Citizen ClipperChuck for putting up the FanShot of Marc Spears' quick item about Blake Griffin's targeted return.  If you haven't seen it yet, here's the money quote:

The Los Angeles Clippers have targeted Jan. 20 as the night they hope rookie forward Blake Griffin finally makes his NBA debut, a league source told Yahoo! Sports.

Great news, right?  Here's hoping it's real.  There's an obvious marketing incentive to it.

Just looking at the schedule, the Chicago game at home on the 20th is the day before the Clippers leave on their longest road trip of the season, an eight game, two week affair.  If Blake doesn't play on January 20th, it will be February 6th before the home fans get a look at him. Moreover, the first game of the road trip, in Denver on January 21st, is on TNT.  The Clippers have already played three national TV games without the guy that got them on the schedule, with a fourth tonight against the Lakers.  There's a tremendous incentive to get him onto the court for that Denver game from a lot of different sources.  And if he's going to play on the 21st, he might as well get a few minutes on the 20th.

A bigger incentive than showcasing the prize rookie for the home fans is the to avoid the complex logistics of finding adequate practice time while on the road.  We know from last season that without breaks in the schedule to practice, it's difficult to work a returning player back into the lineup.  Well, that eight games in 14 nights stretch, with two back to backs and loads of travel, hardly seems like the time for BG to be getting his practice reps.  In other words, he'd better get them before that road trip or his return could be further delayed.

How does target return of Jan. 20th fit with the latest official news from the Clippers?  Well, it's relatively consistent.  On Wednesday, December 23rd they said he'd be cleared for basketball related activities in three weeks.  There's some room for interpretation as to what constitutes "basketball related activities" - Spears says he's "doing on-court workouts" and Jonathan Abrams reported he was doing "basketball related" stuff this weekend as well.  But I spoke to the coach today, and Blake's certainly not practicing.  We're two weeks removed from the last announcement - he's got another week on that schedule to get into practice, and then another week before the Bulls game on the 20th to make this prediction a reality.

Now for the bad news.  Let's start with Spears himself.  He goes on to say in his brief report that "If Griffin is healthy enough to face the Bulls, he’ll play limited minutes."  Wait a minute?  He'll play if he's healthy enough to play?  Isn't that self evident?  Hasn't that been a given all along?  Heck, I suppose he could play against New Jersey on the 18th if he's "healthy enough."  He could play against the Lakers tonight if he's "healthy enough."

More specifically, I was in Playa Vista yesterday, and I went on a fishing expedition on this very subject, and I got nowhere with MDsr.  I asked him if he'd looked at the schedule to target a return, and he said no.  I asked him if they had any plans to get Griffin onto the court before they left on their road trip at the end of the month and he said they hadn't thought about it.  He did say that things were progessing.  He is running on the regular treadmill at this point, which has him on his 'three week schedule.'  I know that MDsr was being less than forthcoming with me.  The Clippers have been loathe to set a timeline on this the entire time, and MDsr was just sticking to his non-committal guns.  But if that's the case, why does Spears suddenly have a target date?

I recognize that Marc Spears may have a different source, a better source, or maybe even just a better rapport with the same source, and that's were he got his information.  But it will be interesting to see how the Clippers respond officially to this information now that it's out there.

Like I said, I hope this is right.  I've had that Chicago game circled on the calendar since the press release two weeks ago.  Maybe it's just wishful thinking - if I'm going to be able to see Blake Griffin's NBA debut, that's the most likely date.  But there's some logic to it beyond simply hyping up the home crowd.  Of course, the real question has nothing to do with home crowds or national TV audiences or road trips.  The real question is, will his knee be fully healed?

[Note by Steve Perrin, 01/06/10 9:18 AM PST ] Lisa Dillman (@reallisa) tweeted from her vacation Mammoth (working, not vacation) that she got the same non-answer that I got when she asked about the Jan. 20th target date.

Communicated w/Clipper front-office exec via email (cell coverage a bit spotty from the hill in Mammoth) he did not confirm the jan 20 date

He said they are taking it "one week at a time." Fans might hope that he'll be back Jan 20. Of course they really wish it was Jan. 6!

None of this really changes much of course.  If you look closely at Spears' piece, he's attributing the date to "a league source," not a Clippers source.  One gets the impression that someone from the Clippers told someone from another team "We really hope Blake can play against the Bulls before we head out on the road" and that's what we've got here.  As I pointed out above, there are several reasons to target that date, to get him on the court before the road trip starts.  But the Clippers themselves steadfastly refuse to commit to a timeline, and the bottom line is that he won't return until he's ready, nor should he.  So circle the 20th on your calendars by all means, but the team won't be giving you your money back if you buy tickets and he doesn't play.