A Los Angeles Clippers team with hopes of exorcising its springtime demons and advancing past the second round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history might once again find itself shorthanded in the postseason, missing a key member of its rotation.
Guard Austin Rivers, the son of head coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers’ sixth-leading scorer, is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season after suffering a strained left hamstring during Wednesday night’s win over the Washington Wizards, according to ESPN.com’s Kevin Arnovitz:
“I think it’s a little more serious [than initially believed],” Doc Rivers said before the Clippers’ 115-104 win against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Clippers coach added that the team was uncertain whether Rivers would be out of action for a portion of the postseason.
“We don’t know,” Doc Rivers said. “I would say it’s 50-50.”
Austin Rivers, however, seems to think the odds might be a little worse than that. From Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:
“I’m disappointed,” Austin Rivers said. “I was looking forward to this year’s playoffs. The goal was game one of the playoffs, but it’s looking like hopefully mid-first round, early second round. We’ll see. You never know, I might heal faster than I think so.
“In my mind, my goal is to be back by the first round, for game one or game two, which is ideal. So, we’ll see.” […]
“It’s not that serious, serious of an injury. It’s just bad timing. Two weeks out with an injury is not crazy. It’s just the timing of it; man, the timing of me getting it. It’s just (messy) timing. I’m getting it a week and a half before the playoffs with a three- or four-week injury. It’s just not good timing.”
“They’re saying three to four weeks with two weeks left to go before the playoffs. The first round is how long? How long does that last? The playoffs are usually a week and a half. So, that’s my point. That’s like mid-first round, game one of the second round. I’m just trying to figure that out.”
The injury brings a premature end to what has been the best regular season of Austin Rivers’ five-year NBA career.
The 24-year-old combo guard, who was drafted with the 10th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft by the New Orleans Hornets and flipped twice in three days in separate three-team trades prior to the 2015 trade deadline before landing with his dad in L.A., is averaging 12 points, 2.8 assists and 2.2 rebounds in 27.8 minutes per game, shooting 44.2 percent from the floor, 37.1 percent from 3-point range and 69.1 percent from the foul line. Every one of those represents a career high.
So did the 29 starts that Austin Rivers made for the Clips this season while star point guard Chris Paul was on the shelf after tearing a ligament in his left thumb. He stepped up to the plate in that role, averaging 16.1 points, 3.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds in 34.5 minutes per game as a starter, with his shooting percentages rising across the board (45.8/42/70.3).
The Clips have several options to rely on to absorb Austin Rivers’ role over the next several weeks, with longtime sixth man Jamal Crawford and reserve Alan Anderson both likely to see more time heading into the postseason. Doc Rivers could opt to use backup Raymond Felton alongside CP3 in a two-point-guard backcourt; they’ve only shared the court for 149 minutes this season, but Clipper lineups featuring that alignment have dominated, roasting opponents by 23.7 points per 100 possessions in that limited sample.
At the risk of overstating the obvious, losing Austin Rivers for some portion of the postseason doesn’t hurt the Clips’ chances of advancing as much as being without a member of their starting five. Still, having to head into a playoff matchup against a tough opponent — in all likelihood, a Utah Jazz team with whom they’ve slugged it out a couple of times in the past few weeks — without a player who’s been an important enough part of the roster to rank fourth on the team in total minutes, fifth in minutes per game and sixth in scoring is far from ideal.
The Clippers have struggled at times this season with consistency, defensive effort and generating quality looks when Paul’s off the floor, and we’ve seen in past postseasons that Austin Rivers’ ability to break down opponents off the dribble, get to the basket and score in bunches can tilt games. Not having him, or having him at less than 100 percent, could prove costly for a wobbly Clips squad that has seen playoff runs scuttled by injuries before, and that could be in for a major shakeup this offseason should another postseason trip end early.
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