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Clippers know how adapt with Blake Griffin sidelined

Scott Howard-Cooper

One of the better players in the league, certainly one of the best at his position, is scheduled to be sidelined another month with his team again in a very tight race in the Western Conference, to where every outcome could matter for home-court advantage in the playoffs — and wait. Was that a yawn from the Clippers?

It certainly wasn’t panic. Blake Griffin underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Tuesday, a procedure that is expected to cost him four to six weeks, and they have every reason to shrug. It’s certainly not welcome news, but it is not terrible either.

Most of all, it’s not last season.

Losing Griffin in 2015-16 was more like a continuous never-ending act, one injury folding into another, one lost month merging into the next. Torn tendon, left leg. Fracture, right hand. Four-game suspension, reputation. As hard of an individual season as you could have,” coach Doc Rivers called it.

And the timing. When Griffin finally returned, ultimately from the suspension as part of the fallout from hurting the hand while hitting an assistant equipment manager, it was April 3. Seven games remained before the start of the first round, a series, it turned out, when his season turned again with a return of the leg injury that knocked him, and eventually the Clippers, out against the Trail Blazers.

Losing Griffin in 2016-17 doesn’t seem nearly as bad in contrast, as long as what the team describes as removing “loose bodies” from the right knee eliminates the problem for good. The long end of the four-to-six-week timeline is Jan. 31. Toss in another week for a minor setback and it’s still not even the All-Star break.

Plus, the bad news from last season becomes the good news for this one: Been there, handled that. The Clippers went December to April without their All-Star power forward last season, 45 games in all, and rolled up a better winning percentage (.667) when he was out than when he played (.567). Short-term memory provides the confidence to play as much as a quarter of this season, if the absence ends up being closer to six weeks, and not wonder if they can hold a spot in the top four in the West.

The first reminder was the 119-102 win over the Nuggets on Tuesday, the night of Griffin’s procedure in Los Angeles, with DeAndre Jordan contributing 13 points and 13 rebounds to continue to build credentials for his first All-Star selection — the same DeAndre Jordan who stepped up with 14.1 points and 14.3 rebounds in 43 appearances last season without Griffin.

“Having gone through three months last year without Blake, it seemed like there was some familiarity with our lineup in terms of spacing and our switches on defense,” guard J.J. Redick said. “I’m hoping it’s not going to be that much of an adjustment because we’ve had to play so much without him without him.”

Rivers’ plan for the replacement power forward in the opening lineup was to change depend on the matchup of the opponent — maybe Brandon Bass, maybe Paul Pierce, at which point “power” becomes a very subjective term with Pierce and Luc Mbah a Moute at forward, and maybe Austin Rivers in a three-guard alignment with Redick and Chris Paul. Then, Pierce got the call against Denver and again the next two games, the 106-101 victory over the Spurs on Thursday and the 90-88 loss to the Mavericks on Friday in a rare home back-to-back.

That moved the Clippers to 22-9, tied with the Rockets for third in the West, heading into Christmas against the Lakers (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) as part of a big test for the bench for the second season in a row.

“That is why we have such a deep team this year,” Jordan said. “You don’t want to go through injuries this season and there is no way we can replace Blake, but guys just step it up. This year, I feel like we have more fire power off of our bench. Guys like Mo [Marreese Speights] and Brandon Bass are going to be ready to play. It is going to be exciting to have this challenge and just go with it.”

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