According to Brad Turner of the L.A. Times, Clippers star Blake Griffin could return from his current knee injury well ahead of schedule. Originally expected to be out for up to 8 weeks from his November 27th injury, there was plenty of worry that Griffin would miss most of January--even an optimistic projection would have been two weeks behind his current recovery.
Blake Griffin could return to play from left knee injury by end of December, the Clippers are hoping. Griffin has been out 13 games. Clippers play Kings tonight, Lakers Friday, Charlotte Sunday— Brad Turner (@BA_Turner) December 26, 2017
As Turner notes, the Clippers’ remaining games in December are tonight, the 26th, against the Saramento Kings, Friday the 29th against the Lakers, and Sunday the 31st against the Charlotte Hornets. The Clippers’ first game of January is Tuesday the 2nd against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Griffin, along with starting point guard Patrick Beverley, starting small forward Danilo Gallinari, and backup forward Wesley Johnson, has already ruled out of tonight’s game against the Kings. Beverley will miss the remainder of the season while both Gallinari and Johnson have vague timelines—Gallo could miss most of January, while Wes’ “foot soreness” should seemingly be a day-to-day injury.
All four of those games are incredibly winnable for the Clippers, with all four opponents possessing worse records than L.A. With their record currently at 13-19, 3 losses behind 8th place, a few wins and Griffin’s return could be just the spark that the Clippers need to launch themselves back into the playoff picture in the Western Conference.
In Griffin’s absence, the Clippers have gone 5-8, somehow stealing wins against elite teams like Toronto and Houston, but falling short to Dallas and Memphis. They’ve shown incredible resilience, but their level of play over the last few weeks is likely both unsustainable and not enough to get them into the playoff picture. Griffin provides a much-needed infusion of offensive talent to a team that has relied on heroic performances from Lou Williams and Austin Rivers to be competitive.
Both Williams and Rivers have stepped up when the team needed them most. Since Blake went out, Lou is averaging 24 points and 6 assists while shooting 42% from the field and 41% from deep. He has 4 30-point performances, including in 3 of the Clippers’ 5 recent wins. In the same time span, Austin is averaging 21 points and 4 assists while shooting 47% from the field and 45% from deep. He set back-to-back career highs in recent games against the Houston Rockets (36 points) and Memphis Grizzlies (38 points).
They aren’t the only Clippers to develop with Blake out, though. Since earning a consistent rotation spot a couple of weeks ago, Sam Dekker is averaging 7.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in 22 minutes a night, bringing much-needed bench energy. Montrezl Harrell has had 7 double-digit scoring games since Blake went out, compared to 0 while Blake was in the lineup. Two-way contract player Jamil Wilson has gotten his first chance at NBA rotation minutes, earning a spot in the starting lineup and shooting 39% from beyond the arc. The Clippers’ other two-way player, C.J. Williams, has also earned Doc Rivers’ trust, starting alongside Wilson at the forward positions in recent games.
Hopefully, the Clippers are able to find a way to keep Wilson and Williams around as part of the 15-man roster for the rest of the season, and the rest of the Clippers role players can use their experience from this shorthanded stretch to help the team going forward. If they can, then Blake Griffin might be pleasantly surprised by how much the team has improved when he returns next week.