The Los Angeles Clippers will get one of their superstars back just in time to prepare for the playoffs. The team announced Sunday that Blake Griffin has been cleared to play after missing 41 games with a partially torn quadriceps and broken right hand. Unfortunately for the Clippers, Griffin will not be available to play until April 3 due to the four-game suspension he earned after punching trainer Matias Testi.
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
That timetable would put Griffin back on the court for the Clippers' final seven games, which should be enough time to reintegrate him back into the rotation and the challenges of NBA competition. That stretch will include his scheduled return vs. the Washington Wizards on April 7, games against the playoff-contending Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz, and a late matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Clippers' likely opponent in the first round of the playoffs.
"[Griffin] had no endurance as far as his wind," Rivers said. "But as far as playing basketball, he looked terrific. ... We figure we have five or six or seven or whatever more days and honestly I don't know if you can get him in the condition to play 35 minutes or 30 minutes right away. My guess right now is we're going to start him.
"The question, more importantly, is not the starting, it's how many minutes in a row can he play. If we went by yesterday, it'd be three."
The good news for the Clippers is that they do not have to rush Griffin back into a major role. They currently sit in fourth place in the West, 4 1/2 games ahead of the injury ravaged Grizzlies and 5 1/2 behind the surging Oklahoma City Thunder. It looks nearly certain that the Clippers are stuck with the No. 4 seed, which is maybe not ideal but also somewhat reassuring at a point in the season that's often full of questions. If Griffin is in position to play 25 strong minutes against the Grizzlies then the Clippers should be in good shape — they will be heavy favorites in that series and probably wouldn't have to overextend Griffin before facing the imposing Golden State Warriors.
L.A. will also need to figure out how to bring a ball-dominant player back to an offense that has adjusted to more of a pace-and-space style in his absence. However, this core has been together for some time and knows enough about each other to not worry too much, even if Chris Paul, Griffin, and Rivers will need to contend with persistent questions about the structure of the attack late in games.
Yet those are likely welcome issues for a squad that has looked lacking against top-tier competition in the past few weeks. This group still expects to play for a championship, and they have no real chance of doing so without Griffin at full strength.
- - - - - - -