One goes out, one comes back.
It’s been the story of the Clippers’ season.
Just as starting guard Milos Teodosic exits for the remainder of the NBA season after aggravating his plantar fascia injury, starting forward Danilo Gallinari is set to return to the lineup after recovering from a non-displaced fracture in his hand.
For all the Clipper injuries this season, and all the turmoil surrounding the mid-season trade of Blake Griffin, Gallinari may represent the greatest disappointment for Clippers fans. After his much-touted signing this summer, he’s appeared in only 19 of the team’s 75 games here in the first season of a three-year contract. He also hasn’t played particularly well in many of them, with his 16 points per game average a downturn from recent years and painful 41% FG and 32% efficiency marks.
Still, Gallinari’s return brings with it significant hope for a Clippers team on the cusp of the playoff race. The Clippers sit in 9th place, one loss behind the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves and two losses behind the New Orleans Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder, and San Antonio Spurs. A record of 5-2 in their last 7 games likely gets them into the post-season, and with the density in the standings ahead of them, they have a chance to even move above the 8th seed—especially with head-to-head games remaining against Utah, San Antonio, and New Orleans.
If Danilo can bring a level of production similar to the 7 games he appeared in during February—when he averaged 20 points and 6 rebounds per game while shooting 49% from the field and 42.5% from deep—then it will be a massive boost to the Clippers’ playoff hopes.
But even when Danilo isn’t scoring or shooting well, he’s an upgrade in the Clippers’ lineup due to their lack of alternate options at the forward positions. Tobias Harris has been phenomenal as the starting power forward, but he’s been joined by Wesley Johnson, who has been abysmal all season long. Simply taking Johnson out of the starting lineup (and hopefully out of the rotation altogether) is a huge boost for this Clippers squad.