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Scott Howard-Cooper

Blake Griffin's breakout rookie season has big challenges ahead.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Next seven weeks could shape Griffin's shot at super-stardom

Posted Dec 29 2010 10:11AM

Now comes the ultimate Blake Griffin showdown.

He's already shedding tacklers, with opponents getting increasingly physical to test his toughness and composure. He already has road crowds inching forward in their seats in anticipation of witnessing his next aerial assault. He's already turned Rookie of the Year into a runaway.

So now we have the next cage-match moment: Blake Griffin vs. Blake Griffin.

This is when the potential distractions really mount. He's been operating with cloud cover the first two months, with the Clippers getting off to a bad start and John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins drawing some of the rookie spotlight.

Now, as the only player in the league averaging at least 20 points, 12 rebounds and three assists a game -- with his monster dunks and the Clips getting some traction in the standings, too -- Griffin is all by himself.

The new threat to Griffin, who has amassed 19 consecutive double-doubles -- tied for the fourth-longest streak since 2001-02 -- is that he hasn't really been in the spotlight yet. Not like he's going to be.

Already some within the Clippers are conscious of wanting to slow the hype machine. Will he be able to handle the rocket ride to stardom, or will he be weighed down by mounting expectations from media and fans and an increasing focus from opponents? If he can deal with all the distractions about to jump in his face, his rookie season is a thunderous success. Lose the momentum he's built up while struggling with off-court demands and he has issues.

"It won't [get the better of him]," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "His willingness to do the right thing, his willingness to work, his willingness to want to win, his approach to things. I don't think that will be an issue."

The next seven weeks will tell everyone as much about Griffin's focus as the last seven have shouted about his work ethic, athleticism and potential as a crushing power forward.

Wednesday night, the Clippers make a rare national appearance, on NBA TV against the Jazz.

On Jan. 20, they play the Trail Blazers on TNT.

On Feb. 4, they open an eight-game trip, a test for a player of any experience.

On Feb. 9, the Clippers play Madison Square Garden, with a large media contingent waiting.

On Feb. 18, Griffin will be in his adopted hometown, Los Angeles, for a series of appearances and interviews as part of All-Star weekend there.

On Feb. 19, he will probably be in the dunk contest and the rookie-sophomore game. The asterisk is that he will definitely be part of the showcase of top prospects unless Western Conference coaches vote him on to the All-Star team as a reserve, meaning he instead plays at the Staples Center's main event, the All-Star Game, on Feb. 20.

Either way, that's going to be a very taxing weekend.

On Feb. 22, Griffin will play in Oklahoma City, his actual hometown, for the first time as a pro.

The settling aspect for the Clippers is that Griffin has so far been all about stability, maturity and focus. His stunning athleticism may set him apart from every other big man, but a passion to work has set the course to greatness. He isn't the usual 21-year-old in that regard.

But there is no way to know. He hasn't lived this kind of life before.

"I feel like when stuff like that happens, for me personally, it makes me more focused and it makes me realize that I have to stay on top of everything and be ready, even more so when teams key in on you and stuff like that," Griffin said. "I'm not really worried about what the media and fans are saying. It's more about being ready for each team and what they have prepared for me."

Everything will be coming at him on a conveyor belt now, though. The reality of his first two months has been just a warmup for the serious spotlight and the new showdown to come.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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