The Los Angeles Clippers went 30-15 last year when all-star forward Blake Griffin was out of action, first with a quadriceps injury and then with a broken hand suffered when he got in an altercation with a former assistant trainer.
Griffin underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Dec. 20 and is out for between four to six weeks. That means he should return around the start of February, about three weeks before the NBA trade deadline, which is Feb. 23 this season.
Why do I mention the NBA trade deadline and Griffin in the same sentence? Because it might be time for the Clippers and Griffin to part ways.
The Clippers have the third best record in the Western Conference after their 119-102 win over Denver Dec. 20, tied with Houston at 21-8. On a given night, they can play with anyone in the league with maybe the exception of the Golden State Warriors, who have won the last seven meetings between the teams.
But they might be a better team without Griffin. Last year they won at a .667 clip without Griffin. Overall, they were at .646.
When healthy, Griffin is one of the better power forwards in the league. He is averaging 21.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists a game this season. Over his career, he averages 21.4 points, 7 rebounds and 4/1 assists.
Those are solid stats, one reason he has played in four all-star games during his career and missed another one because of injury.
But they might be a better without Griffin. When he is out of the lineup, DeAndre Jordan usually picks up the slack offensively and point guard Chris Paul shoots more.
In an era when more and more NBA teams are going to smaller lineups, there is no need for both Howard and Griffin on the same team anymore, especially when Griffin could be moved for a young shooting forward who could provide more scoring options for the Clippers.
Mo Speights, Brandon Bass and Luc Mbah A Moute could take up the slack at power forward for Griffin and the Clippers could get younger and more athletic at the same time.
Doc Rivers, who makes all personnel decisions for the Clippers, has never expressed any interest in getting rid of Griffin, which is understandable. Who wants to trade an all star?
But if the Clippers play better ball without Griffin this time around, it’s something Rivers should think long and hard about.
The Clippers are so good that they won’t consider this a successful season without making it to the Western Conference finals. In the tough Western Conference, that means getting past the San Antonio Spurs, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets, not to mention the Portland Trailblazers, who knocked the Clippers out last year.
The Clippers haven’t been able to get to the conference finals with Paul, Griffin and Jordan. It might be time to try a different combination.
GOOD-LOOKING ROOKIE: The more I see Brandon Ingram, the better I like him. The Lakers second pick in last June’s draft is still only 18, is rail thin and is having a typical rookie season.
One night he looks like an all star, the next night he looks like a rookie.
Kobe Bryant looked the same way 20 years ago. Yes, I just compared Ingram to Bryant.
The rookie out of Duke came close to becoming the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple double Dec. 17 when he grabbed 10 rebounds and had nine points and nine assists against the world champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
At times, Ingram went head to head with LeBron James. Ingram is a little taller than James but gives away at least 60 pounds, plus 13 years of experience.
The other impressive thing about Ingram is that, like James, he can run the offense. In fact, he has started at point guard recently when D’Angelo Russell has sat out to rest his ailing knee.
Head coach Luke Walton says he likes Ingram’s basketball instincts and his vision on the court.
Along with Russell, forward Julius Randle and guard Jordan Clarkson, Ingram gives the Lakers a solid, young nucleus to build around.
They still aren’t a playoff team, but the Lakers have shown enough improvement to keep things moving forward in the front office.
I don’t think you will be seeing Jeanne Buss firing her brother Jim at the end of this season. With fine draft picks like Clarkson, Randle, Russell, Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. over the last three seasons, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak have shown they can identify talent.
Now that they have hired a good young coach, the Lakers can look forward to a brighter future.
PRO BOWL RECOGNITION: The lowly Rams managed to place two players on the NFC Pro Bowl roster that was announced Dec. 20.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald and punter Johnny Hekker will play Jan. 29 in Orlando, Florida.
This year’s game will return to the AFC versus NFC format after having the teams determined by a draft for the previous three seasons.
It is the third Pro Bowl for both Donald and Hekker.
Donald became the first Ram to be selected for the Pro Bowl for three consecutive years since receiver Torry Holt was selected five consecutive times from 2003-2007, when the team was based in St. Louis.
He is the first Rams defensive player to accomplish the feat since cornerback Jerry Gray was selected four consecutive times from 1986-89 when the team played at Anaheim Stadium.
“It’s definitely a big accomplishment,” said Donald, who is in his third year in the league. “Anytime you get rewarded for all the hard work you put into this game, you’re going to be happy about it.”
Hekker may be the Rams best offensive performer. He leads the NFL with a 46.2-yard net punting average and has put a record-tying 46 punts inside the 20-yard line with only one touchback in 14 games.
In week nine, he had a career best 75-yard punt. He topped that the next week with a 78-yard kick, the first time an NFL punter had punted for more than 75 yards in back-to-back weeks in 20 years.
A high school quarterback who became a full-time punter at Oregon State, Hekker called his selection “a huge honor.”
“I’m so grateful to be playing under coach Fassel and with the rest of this special teams group that takes so much pride in what we do,” Hekker said, referring to John Fassel, the team’s special teams coordinator and interim head coach.
“And I really, really owe it to the other guys who go out there and make me look good on a consistent basis.”
SHAQ’S STATUE: A bronze statue of Basketball Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal will be unveiled March 24 outside Staples Center.
The nine-foot, 1,200-pound statue (almost as large as Shaq himself) will be suspended 10 feet above the ground in Star Plaza and connected to Staples Center.
The statue was created by Julie Rotblatt Amrany and Omri Amrany, who also made the statues of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Chick Hearn, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Luc Robitaille and Jerry West in Star Plaza.
The statue will be the eighth in Star Plaza. The others honor International Boxing Hall of Fame member Oscar De La Hoya and NHL all-time leading scorer Wayne Gretzky.
O’Neal, his teammates, colleagues and friends are scheduled to speak, although there is no word if that will include Kobe Bryant.
O’Neal played for the Lakers from 1996-2004, leading the team to three consecutive NBA championships from 2000-2002, winning the NBA Finals MVP award each time.
O’Neal was selected for the All-Star Game seven times as a Laker and was the league’s MVP for the 1999-2000 season.
The Miami Heat will retire O’Neal’s number 32 jersey in halftime ceremonies Dec. 22 when the Heat play the Lakers.