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Preview: The Clippers’ Life Without Blake Griffin Begins (Again)

...and it begins against another Western contender struggling through injuries.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Clippers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture:

Blake Griffin is hurt, and he may be out for eight weeks. Unless you just returned from Antarctica, this shouldn’t be news to you. Painful still, but not news.

But (basketball) life marches on, and tonight it struts to a syncopated beat with the Utah Jazz in town. When the Jazz last visited, the story was the parallel summer paths taken by last season’s first-round foes, losing stars and retooling reluctantly. Now, the former 4th and 5th seeds sit in 8th and 9th and have suffered more than a summer defection. The Clippers confirmed that Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic are still out, and with Patrick Beverley lost for the season that means four of Doc’s five opening night starters are dressed like you and me. Add Blake and those guys to Utah’s wounded and you might have a playoff contender.

All is not lost, though — the Clippers have won three in a row! But even in this year’s injury-ridden Western Conference, making the playoffs will be a big ask. (And the Thunder can’t suck forever, can they?) Will the Clippers try to? Do you want them to try to? These aren’t questions for tonight. I doubt the Clippers have given up yet, and I’m sure neither have many of you.

The Antagonist:

The Jazz are hurting too, although injuries may have serendipitously revealed their best path forward. With Rudy Gobert sidelined by a four-plus-week bone contusion — and, let’s get this out of the way: THE JAZZ AREN’T BETTER OFF WITHOUT GOBERT — Derrick Favors is rumbling through a sudden wealth of space. The embattled big man torched the Nuggets on Tuesday, and Quin Snyder’s team finds itself on a three-game run of its own.

Again, THE JAZZ AREN’T BETTER OFF WITHOUT GOBERT, and eventually the big center will return to his well-deserved spot in the center of their floor. But this period of smaller-ball success should have the final word in Salt Lake City’s ongoing twin-tower debate. It doesn’t work (well), and the Jazz are better off WITH Gobert, only with someone like Jonas Jerebko starting next to him.

Until then, or at least for tonight, Jerebko plays next to Favors. Ice-cold Clipper-killer Joe Johnson is out, Rodney Hood is probably out too, but Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio, Ricky Rubio’s wonderful hair, and rookie ball-of-fire Donovan Mitchell are around if your defense likes headaches. You can argue whether the Clippers should quit on the season. You can bet the Jazz won’t.

The Basics:

The Subplots: