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The Game Where Blake Returns: Clippers vs. Wizards Preview

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Blake Griffin, who has been out for 45 games, will return for tomorrow's Sunday matinee against the disappointing Wizards. The Clippers don't have much reason to win, but need to re-integrate Blake as fast possible.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
2015-16 NBA Regular Season
vs
Washington Wizards (37-39)

Los Angeles Clippers (47-28)
April 3, 2016 — 12:30 PM PT
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, California
FSW2, The Beast 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown ('15-'16)
37-39 Record 47-28
26-21 East 21-8
11-18 West 26-20
8-6 Division 7-6
19-19 Home 25-12
18-20 Road 22-16
22-27 .500+ 23-19
15-12 .500– 24-9
0-2 OT 4-1
6-4 L10 5-5
Projected Starters
John Wall PG Chris Paul
Bradley Beal SG J.J. Redick
Otto Porter SF Luc Mbah a Moute
Markieff Morris PF Blake Griffin (!)
Marcin Gortat C DeAndre Jordan
Efficiency Stats ('15-'16)
98.37 (13th) Pace 98.28 (14th)
102.4 (22nd) OffRtg 106.5 (6th)
103.6 (15th) DefRtg 101.5 (8th)
-1.2 (17th) NetRtg 5.0 (5th)
Injury Report

Alan Anderson (Groin) Out

Paul Pierce (ankle) Doubtful

Season Series: Clippers Lead 1-0

December 28 at Washington Clips win 108-91 Box Score

The Big Picture: The story for the Clippers, of course, is Blake Griffin's return after 45 games out with quad and hand injuries and a suspension. The Clips went 30-15 in his absence, and at some points their improved play sparked questions as to whether or not they were better off without him. Those suggestions were always nonsensical: if the Clippers want to make any kind of a run in the playoffs, they need Blake healthy and working well with the other starters. The rest of the team (outside of an ailing Paul Pierce) is healthy and ready to go. Counting tomorrow there are only seven games left to re-integrate Blake, seven games to get this team rolling heading into the playoffs. And this should be a good contest to start him with.

The Antagonist: The Washington Wizards have been one of the most disappointing teams in the 2016 season. Coming off two consecutive Eastern Conference semi-finals appearances, they have completely flopped, and sit in the 10th spot 2.5 games out of the playoffs as of right now. A lot of their problems could be blamed on injuries: until recently, they had lost the most games due to injury in the entire NBA. Bradley Beal missed a lot of time, Nene sat out a chunk of games, and hopeful rotation stalwart Alan Anderson has only suited up for 9 contests all season. That still isn't excuse enough for their performance, however. John Wall has been mostly magnificent, but his defensive effort has come and gone, and his shooting remains inconsistent. The rest of the team is talented, but just hasn't gelled together well. After being a top 10 defense for two consecutive seasons, the Wizards sit at 22nd this season. They attempted to play more modern basketball as a "pace and space" team, but their offense didn't improve and the defense sunk. They still have an outside chance at the playoffs, so prepare for a tough game tomorrow.

Key Matchup- Chris Paul vs. John Wall: It's always fun to see these two go at it. Wall is one of the closest players to CP3 in the NBA in terms of pure playmaking and passing ability, although Paul remains a far superior shooter. Wall has a significant athleticism advantage, but is still prone to poor shot selection and awful turnovers. Wall sits at a 19.9/10.2 for the season while CP3 has a line of 19.8/9.9, though Paul plays fewer minutes per game. More significantly, the Point God has an Assist to Turnover ratio of 3.66 while Wall's is 2.49. Even in an "up" turnover year for Chris, he still destroys Wall in that statistic. So if CP3 can force Wall into poor shots and hurried passes, the Wizards' attack will be crippled, and their turnovers will mount.

Blake is Still Injured: Yeah.... reports came out today that Blake still has a tear in his quad and will probably require offseason surgery. That is really poor news, not only for his future, but also for this team's hopes of an upset against the Warriors in the 2nd round. If the Clippers are to have any chance, Blake must be close to 100%, and that now looks quite unlikely. Hopefully he isn't too limited by the injury, but it would be shocking if he were anywhere near full speed.

Do the Wiz Miss the Truth?: One of the proposed theories to the Wizards' struggles this season has been their lack of a "championship presence" that was brought in previous years by Paul Pierce and Trevor Ariza. While Pierce wasn't his Hall of Fame self last season, he was much more effective than he has been this year, and was supposedly a huge force in the locker room. Without him there have been rumors of contentment and malaise up and down the Wizards' roster, and perhaps he could have prevented such a slip in focus. I guess it all depends on how much one subscribes to the value of "locker room guys" and "presence". I tend to think pure talent will win out, but the Wiz are mostly the same level as last year, maybe even better, and have fallen pretty badly.

X-Factor: Outside the obviousness of Blake's real health and level of play, the possible wild card in this game is Markieff Morris. The Wizards made a move for him at the trade deadline, sending out a protected 1st round pick and the contracts of Kris Humphries and DaJuan Blair. He has been better for the Wizards than he was for the Suns, but he still plays lackadaisical defense sometimes and can float around on offense. When he is feeling it, though, he can be a powerful force on both ends, and he will probably rise to the occasion against Blake. His ability to stretch the floor on offense and bang in the post will be tough for Griffin in his first game back, but as Markieff is kind of a super-lite version of Draymond Green, it might be good practice for the near future.