When it was announced on Sunday afternoon that Clippers' star Blake Griffin would need elbow surgery to clean out a staph infection, most around the league began frantically examining how it affected Los Angeles and the team's playoff hopes. Griffin is out at least through the All-Star break and could miss four to six weeks.
Celtics fans, however, view the injury from a different perspective.
Thanks to the Doc Rivers trade back in 2013, Boston owns the Clippers' unprotected first-round pick. Every loss inches L.A. closer to the lottery in the loaded Western conference, and getting an unexpected top 14 selection in next year's draft would be a boon for the Celtics' front office.
Clips are in toughest stretch of schedule. Not crazy to suggest they could go something like 3-10 in next 13 games. Playoff math gets tight.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) February 8, 2015
Keep in mind that this is a long shot. Los Angeles is currently 33-19, 5.5 games ahead of ninth-place New Orleans and 6.5 ahead of Oklahoma City. They still have one of the league's best point guards in Chris Paul (eighth in the league in PER), an elite rim protector in DeAndre Jordan and arguably the best scoring sixth man in the NBA in Jamal Crawford. The Clippers' talented roster, combined with their strong start to the season, makes missing the playoffs entirely a pipe dream.
ESPN's Kevin Pelton ran simulations to try and predict L.A.'s performance in Griffin's absence, and the Clips still made the playoffs almost every time:
The notion that Griffin's absence could cost the Clippers a playoff spot is probably overstated, however. Even without him in the lineup, the Clippers project about as well as the New Orleans Pelicans and Phoenix Suns, two of the three contenders for the eighth seed. (The Oklahoma City Thunder, when healthy, project better than the Griffin-less Clippers.) So the Clippers miss the playoffs in just three out of 1,000 simulations.
All that being said, Griffin is an all-world player who will be impossible to replace. His much improved mid-range shooting is gone, clogging up the space Jordan will have for rim runs on pick-and-rolls. Los Angeles will also desperately miss Griffin's passing (5.1 assists per game) and ability to snatch a defensive rebound and start a fast break all on his own. L.A. was blasted 131-108 by the Thunder in its first post-Griffin game, an ominous omen for what's to come.
The Clippers were already paper-thin on the bench, and things are obviously worse now. Spencer Hawes will move into the starting lineup, but he's been a disappointment (42.3 percent shooting overall, 33.6 percent on 3-pointers) who doesn't possess near Griffin's skill set. And when he comes off the floor, Rivers will have to turn to some combination of Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu and Ekpe Udoh at power forward. Yikes.
And that upcoming schedule Zach Lowe mentioned above? Nine of the Clippers' next 11 opponents would be playoff teams if the season ended today, including eight from the West. Things could get dicey for a team without arguably its best player in uniform.
Again, this is all likely a pipe dream for the Celtics. The odds of L.A. missing the playoffs are very low, and Griffin may push himself to return sooner if he sees his team struggling. But if the Clippers' weakened rotation causes them to crumble over a rough stretch of games and Griffin is unable to return soon, the Pelicans and Thunder are vying to pounce and steal their playoff bid.
Such a move would give the Celtics more ping pong balls in the next lottery, an unexpected bonus for a rebuilding team.
Photo credit: David Richard, USA Today SportsDan Hoppen 2/09/2015 09:48:00 AM Tweet Edit