While the Los Angeles Clippers have not had a horrible season by any stretch — they're still a solid playoff team just a half-game behind the Portland Trail Blazers in the race for homecourt advantage in the first round — the franchise has not reached the heights many had hoped for in Steve Ballmer's first season as owner. One of the biggest reasons for that relative disappointment has been key injuries in the second half of the season, primarily those to the now-returned Blake Griffin and the still-sidelined Jamal Crawford. Griffin is rounding into shape following his 16-game layoff, but Crawford has missed the past 10 games with a right calf contusion with few updates on his progress.
The Clippers updated the basketball world on Crawford's status Monday, but it's not necessarily positive. In fact, according to Griffin, the streaky veteran scorer isn't even close to being able to move around at an NBA pace. From Ben Bolch for the Los Angeles Times:
Jamal Crawford was dressed in workout attire and was shooting around on the court before Monday's practice for the first time that Clippers Coach Doc Rivers could remember since the sharp-shooter suffered a calf injury in a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 9. [...]
"The fact that [Clippers' trainer Jasen Powell] didn't even mention it tells me he didn't think it was a big deal that he was there," Rivers said. "Usually when a guy is out on the floor, the trainer runs up to your office and says, 'Hey, Jamal is out, that's good.' They didn't say a word about it, so I'm not reading into it." [...]
Before Monday's practice, Crawford shot around from the free-throw line as Nate Robinson's son rebounded for him. Crawford, however, did not participate in practice.
"You can't rush him," Blake Griffin said, "he can barely walk."
It would be wrong to take Griffin's statement as medical fact, because he is quite emphatically not a doctor. However, his choice of words combined with Rivers's insistence that Crawford's shooting wasn't a big deal suggests that he isn't going to be back particularly soon. With only a few weeks left in the regular season, the Clippers might have to plan for life without Crawford. He could certainly impact the team whenever he comes back — his bench scorer's role is such that it shouldn't be a problem to reintegrate him — but the fact that there's no real expectation for that return isn't promising.
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So, if Crawford is out for the remainder of the season, what do the Clippers lose? His season averages of 16.4 ppg on 40.1 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent from three-point range are not particularly inspiring, but those numbers don't communicate Crawford's full impact on the Clippers. He is a major part of their late-game lineups, particularly as a secondary ballhandler alongside Chris Paul. Plus, as one of the streakiest scorers of his era, Crawford has the ability to turn a game's result by himself. That could be of major importance in the playoffs, when taking a single game via an unexpected performance has a much larger impact than it does in the regular season.
The Clippers can't exactly cry about their poor luck here — they have a job to do and are not in nowhere close to as worse shape as the Oklahoma City Thunder — but an extended absence for Crawford could be bad news. This is a team that entered the season with the expectation of competing for a championship, not simply sticking around as a dark-horse contender as they have the past few years. While the team's final finish ultimately depends more on stars like Paul and Griffin than it does on Crawford, it's hard to imagine the Clippers making it too far without a whole lot of outcomes going their way. For all his faults, Crawford is a player capable of creating his own good fortune.
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