This week, the folks at SBNation headquarters asked us a simple question: “What does your team want for Christmas?”
Some teams might want a change in the front office, or development for their young players, or a big win over a rival, but the Clippers would be more than grateful to just have their health.
L.A. has been absolutely decimated by injuries this season, with an insane amount of ailments almost exclusively impacting their starting lineup. All-Defensive 1st team point guard Patrick Beverley has only played 11 games and will miss the remainder of the season after microfracture knee surgery. Superstar power forward and leading scorer Blake Griffin played just 19 games before going down a month ago with a sprained MCL that could keep him out for another month. Their marquee free agency addition, small forward Danilo Gallinari, has only played 11 games due to separate injuries to each of his glutes, the most recent of which is a tear that could keep him out through January. And the highly-anticipated free agent acquisition from Europe, Milos Teodosic, only recently returned after missing 22 games with a plantar fascia injury—and since then, he’s missed one more game and faced a minutes restriction as part of his recovery. Only All-Star center DeAndre Jordan has escaped unscathed thus far, corralling some very unorthodox Clipper lineups through their first 30 games.
These injuries have kept Doc Rivers from implementing his normal gameplan all season—the opening night starting crew of Beverley, Teodosic, Gallinari, Griffin, and Jordan has only been intact twice: the first two games of the season. Austin Rivers joined the starting lineup in place of the injured Teodosic, and the Clippers played their next 7 games with four of their 5 starters healthy.
In the 21 games since, the Clippers have never been able to get 4 of their normal starters in the lineup at once, and they’ve had 3 starters only twice—both over a month ago. That means that the Clippers have had a majority of their starters available in only 11 of their 30 games, and they haven’t had a majority of their starters available in a full month of games. With Beverley out for the season and Griffin and Gallinari both slated to miss extended time, that mark could last for another full month.
The Clippers have played 15 games with two of their five starters, and four games with only DeAndre Jordan. They are 2-0 with all five starters, 3-4 when four starters play, 0-2 when three starters play, 7-8 when two starters play, and 0-4 when DeAndre Jodan is the only healthy starter. Furthermore, even their fill-in starters have been affected by injury: Austin Rivers replaced Patrick Beverley in the lineup and recently missed two games with a concussion (both Clippers losses), and Lou Williams, the team’s leading scorer with Blake Griffin out, missed one of those games with a foot injury. Wesley Johnson, who was subbing at both forward positions to start the year and has 19 starts as an injury fill-in, has missed the last two games with a foot injury of his own and will continue to be out at least through tomorrow’s game in Houston.
As a result, the Clippers have turned to some unexpected starters. Aside from Rivers’ 26 starts and Johnson’s 19, second-round rookie Sindarius Thornwell has started 8 games (the Clippers’ record is 2-6), Lou Williams has started 7 games (2-5), two-way player Jamil Wilson has started 7 games (3-4), fellow two-way player C.J. Williams has started 3 games (1-2), and Montrezl Harrell has started twice at power forward in two-big lineups (0-2).
All the Clippers want for Christmas is their starting lineup back. Or, if that’s not possible, at least some of them. If Milos and DeAndre can stay on the floor, and the Clippers can return even one of Griffin or Gallinari ahead of schedule, they’re still in a position to make a playoff push, with only 2 more losses than 8th-place New Orleans and 3 more losses than 5th-place Portland.