Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Dec. 19) -- Blake Griffin (knee) likely out 3-6 weeks Staff

Clippers lose Griffin for 3-6 weeks | Noel out of Sixers’ rotation | Amazing Westbrook impresses everywhere | Robinson making most of opportunity for Pacers | Warriors have another gem in Clark

No. 1: Clippers will lose Griffin for 3-6 weeks after knee surgery — Los Angeles Clippers fans worried about the franchise’s history of bad luck have been validated. The Clippers will lose All-Star power forward Blake Griffin for three to six weeks after he undergoes what is being called a “minor” surgical procedure on his right knee. This is the second straight season Griffin will see his Christmas ruined by injury; last year it was a right hand. Jesse Dougherty of the Los Angeles Times has more:

The surgery would be to remove loose bodies in the knee, which can be small fragments of cartilage or bone. The recovery time for the surgery would be three to six weeks.

Griffin, who leads the Clippers with 21 points per game, missed a Dec. 10 win over the Pelicans because of knee soreness. Before that game, after announcing Griffin was out, Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said the soreness was “nothing big.” Griffin did return to the lineup two days later, and finished with 26 points, seven rebounds and seven assist in the Clippers’ 117-110 loss to the Wizards on Sunday.

The seventh-year power forward played in just 35 games last season because injuries to his left quad and right hand.

“We’re just not going to take any chances with anyone,” Rivers said after he ruled Griffin out for the Pelicans game eight days ago. “And it’s not that big of a deal; we just feel like it’s a long season.”

Now the Clippers could be without Griffin, part of their “Big Three” and one of the league’s most dynamic forwards, for the near future. They host the Nuggets at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and will look to improve upon their 20-8 record.

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No. 2: Noel out of Sixers’ regular rotation — The Philadelphia 76ers have an abundance of riches of sorts when it comes to talented young big men. One of those players, Nerlens Noel, hasn’t been happy of late with his role of late and was miffed when he played just eight minutes in his second game back from injury. Noel might have more reason to be upset again he logged a DNP-CD in last night’s win against the Brooklyn Nets and may see less and less minutes going forward. Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer has more:

Nerlens Noel went from playing 8 minutes, 2 seconds to being out of the 76ers’ rotation for the foreseeable future. He’ll only get playing time if Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor are in foul trouble.

The Sixers say it has to do with their logjam at the center, with three starting-caliber players in Noel, Embiid, and Okafor. Coach Brett Brown was adamant Sunday that it had nothing to do with Noel’s voicing his displeasure with playing just 8:02 against the Los Angeles Lakers two days earlier.

Perhaps he’s being transparent, but one thing is for sure: Brett Brown doesn’t feel bad for the reserve, who was being touted as cornerstone of the team two seasons ago.

“I feel worse for Richaun,” Brown said of Richaun Holmes, a fourth center who did not play for the second consecutive game.

Brown mentioned that Noel “missed everything,” being away from the team in the preseason and the start of the regular season to rehabilitate inflammation in his left knee.

“Twenty minutes before the game [Friday], I learned he was going to play,” the coach said. “He hasn’t been a part of us. I think this conversation goes to a higher level, a more real level in a few weeks when he actually had some practices.

“Richaun has been here since Day 1. I feel that is something that’s on my mind as much as Nerlens.”

It’s no secret that Noel is unhappy with his situation with the team. There’s a thought that the team is starting to get fed up with his attitude.

“I think this has been decided a long time ago,” Noel said. “I think it had nothing to do with it. It’s something that’s been set in stone.”

The YES Network, which televises Nets games, showed a close-up of him on the bench. But to his credit, Noel didn’t show any signs of displeasure. He smiled while walking to the court for pregame warm-ups.

“You’ve just got to prepare yourself with things like these and take it one step at a time and at the same time be a pro and depend on the things you’ve got to work on,” Noel said.

The big man either had a change of heart or was coached up before speaking the media during pregame. He had voiced his displeasure with the Sixers logjam at the center position before the start of training camp.

Noel returned to action Friday against the Lakers and recorded two points, five rebounds and one block while playing all his minutes in the first half.

He voiced his displeasure with that in the locker room.

“I’m not an eight-minute player. So I don’t know what that’s about,“ Noel said at the time. “I don’t really care [who he’s paired with]. I need to be on the court playing basketball. I’m too good to be playing eight minutes right now — that’s crazy, that’s crazy, that’s crazy. Need to figure this [stuff] out.”

Then two days later, he didn’t get off the bench because of the coach’s decision. Brown said “trying to force-feed three bigs in a game is unfair.” Brown felt it created a ripple effect on other players on the team. As they tried to play the three centers, power forward Dario Saric was forced play small forward, where he struggled. Meanwhile, power forward Ersan Ilyasova was also ineffective since his minutes were slashed.

“I said it before and I will say it again,” Brown said. “I personally have a soft spot for Nerlens Noel. We both have Boston connections and he’s been with me for a long time. Nerlens’ heart has been in the right place. He’s in a very unfortunate situation.”

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No. 3: Amazing Westbrook impresses everywhere — There is no shame in celebrating outstanding performances, even if you’re on the wrong side of said performance when the game ends. There’s no shame in taking a little to savor the brilliance that is Russell Westbrook’s season, to date, a season that continues tonight at home against the Atlanta Hawks. In Oklahoma City and beyond, Westbrook continues to amaze everyone, even himself, so said Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman after Westbrook’s triple-double work against the Phoenix Suns over the weekend:

Lots of good happened Saturday. After a two-game losing streak in which Westbrook’s numbers resembled Planet Earth, he was back through the stratosphere.

Seven assists in the first quarter alone. At least five assists in every quarter. Only six points at halftime, but a 54-39 Thunder lead. Then 17 points in the third quarter alone.

In this season that is becoming a Westbrook tour of unfathomable peaks, remember this game. Five assists on 3-pointers; 17 assists on layups or dunks. Only eight missed shots to reach 26 points.

Westbrook played totally under control, and though Phoenix packed the paint to block Westbrook drives, he still found openings to either score or deliver the ball to teammates for easy baskets.

“When you’re in the game, like tonight, you could care less about what’s going on” statistically, Phoenix center Tyson Chandler. “You’re frustrated with the loss. You’re out there trying to win. But I’m a student of the game. I’ve always respected what he did, regardless of the numbers he’s putting up. He’s putting his will over the game. I’ve always had the utmost respect for Russ, because at the end of the day, you know what you’re going to get.”

And the answer to a trivia question – who’s the only NBA player to start ahead of Westbrook? – also is more impressed with the player than with the numbers.

“I’ve seen how he works,” said Suns coach Earl Watson, who in the Thunder’s maiden season, 2008-09, started 17 games ahead of Westbrook, before interim coach Scotty Brooks made Westbrook the Thunder point guard. “I’ve seen where he started and where he progressed throughout his career.

“He pushes his body. He doesn’t really rest enough, but he realizes you have to be unique in your work activity and the way you prepare. You can’t do it the same as everybody else in the league in order to be different. He understands that clearly.”

Westbrook indeed is different. His averages are up to 30.4 points, 10.5 rebounds and 11.0 assists per game. From all corners of the league and all corners of the world, basketball people are amazed.

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No. 4: Robinson making most of opportunity for Pacers — Are the Indiana Pacers better with Glenn Robinson III in the starting lineup instead of Monta Ellis? That’s a question no one thought they’d be asking at the start of this season. But Robinson’s work with the starting unit while Ellis makes his way back from a groin injury is raising eyebrows. As Jordan J. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star points out, Pacers coach Nate McMillan will have a decision to make at some point:

As far as Indiana Pacers coach Nate McMillan is concerned, Glenn Robinson III has been making the most of his starting opportunities over the last four games. And while not directly a reward for hard work, Robinson should remain a starter for the time being.

Pacers guard Monta Ellis, who has missed the last 3½ games with a right groin strain, is ruled out for Monday night’s home game against the Washington Wizards and indicated at Sunday afternoon’s practice he might be at least another week from returning.

“It feels good, it’s getting better and better every day,” Ellis said. “I haven’t been doing anything (in practice). Maybe some time this week I’ll start doing something, but I’ve just been in the weight room getting stronger and I’ll probably start doing court stuff later this week.”

Should Ellis miss the remainder of the week, Robinson will almost certainly get starting minutes at shooting guard for the next three games. No reason to think anyone else would after Robinson recorded his second double-double of the season with 12 points and 12 rebounds in Saturday’s 105-90 win over the Detroit Pistons. Robinson is averaging 11.0 points and 6.8 rebounds, and he’s shooting 45 percent from the field, 42.9 percent on 3s.

On Sunday, McMillan commended Robinson’s energy during the road stretch but was unwilling to say whether he could keep a starting spot once Ellis returns. Robinson, however, left no question about what he wants: He wants to stay in the starting lineup.

“I think when another role guy goes down, this opportunity that I’m given, I’m really trying to keep it,” Robinson said. “That’s my job (to) come in competitive and to come in wanting to keep that spot. Like I said from the beginning of the season, I’ve been on the bench way too long (and I’m) trying to get back (in the starting lineup). Obviously, that’s what I’m trying to do, that’s my goal, but in the end, it’s on Nate to make that decision.”

Before the three-game trip, the Pacers (14-14) hoped Robinson’s presence in the starting lineup might resolve their issues with inconsistency. But even with Robinson in place of Ellis, the Pacers lost to two teams well below .500 before topping the Pistons.

So comes the question: Are the Pacers better with Robinson in place of Ellis, or are there issues regardless of who is starting?

“It’s just a different game with Monta starting and Third (Robinson) starting,” Pacers star Paul George said. “Monta is another ballhandler and another guy who gets to the paint and makes plays, but also is one of our better playmakers. And with Third, we gain a lot on the defensive end. They both bring a lot of positives within our team.”

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No. 5: Warriors have another gem in Clark — It’s not easy making an impression as an undrafted guard on a team loaded with superstars up and down the roster, including an All-Star backcourt in two-time Kia MVP Stephen Curry and sharpshooter Klay Thompson. But Ian Clark has done his best to make his mark. And if his recent work is any indication, he’s in the midst of a crossover from longshot to mainstay with the Warriors. Carl Steward of the Mercury News provides the details:

If you’re Ian Clark, you know the arc of your NBA game is progressing on a nice upward path when you can send Kevin Durant into a hardwood belly-flop and subsequent giddy swim stroke.

The Warriors reserve guard actually had the entire Warriors’ bench, loaded with star starters, going absolutely bonkers Saturday night when a nasty fourth-quarter cross-over he executed left Portland defender Noah Vonleh looking like a drunk on roller skates. Clark nailed a jump shot off his killer move to boot, and the sideline Mardi Gras was on.

Durant, reflecting on his impromptu Katie Ladecky impression, couldn’t identify his swimming stroke after the Warriors pounded the Trail Blazers 135-90.

“You know what, I don’t know what to call it,” he said. “It wasn’t perfect form, but I’m sure when Ian looked back to the bench, he saw me on the ground and knew he’d made a great move.”

Clark’s cross-over was actually just the final French pastry to a career-high 23-point performance that must have had the Trail Blazers wondering what it is with this guy. His previous career high was 22 on Nov. 1, when he made all eight of his shots, plus two free throws, in Portland to lead a 127-104 Warriors win.

Clark made his first five shots in this latest encounter at Oracle Arena to run the bucket streak to 13 in a row before he finally missed a running floater in the key. Nonetheless, in two games against the Blazers, he’s scored 45 points on 17-for-19 shooting, including 6 of 7 on 3-pointers.

But while the Blazers may play a big role in Clark’s season highlight reel, they haven’t been the only victims. He got the Lakers for 21. He twice scored in double figures against Indiana. He has six double-figure scoring games in all through 28 games, which matches his total for all of last season, his first as a Warrior. Moreover, he’s shooting 52.2 percent from the floor and 43.3 percent from 3-point distance, which are higher figures than a couple of teammates named Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

But back to the arc thing, Clark has always had a nice arc on his jump shot. It’s what got him a look in the NBA as teams scour for shooters. But in Year Two with Golden State, it’s the rest of his game that’s gotten everyone’s attention.

“I go back with Ian,” said Draymond Green. “I was on the summer league team with him and Kent (Bazemore), and he was kind of a spot shooter. We just drove the paint and kicked it out to Ian and he’d knock the shot down. But to see where he’s at today, where you can play him at the point, where he can make plays off the bounce, where he can make plays for others, it’s amazing to see. He’s continued to work and work, and he’s a great guy to have on our team, that’s for sure.”

Clark has beaten the odds as an undrafted player out of tiny Belmont College, emerging as a key cog on the Warriors’ rapidly improving bench unit. Just 25, he still has room to grow and he’s acting on it in impressive fashion, taking a major step in his play from last year.

“Oh, for sure,” said coach Steve Kerr. “He’s getting more consistent minutes now. He’s kind of taken (Leandro) Barbosa’s role from last year and he’s playing with a lot more confidence. He’s an excellent shooter, obviously, but he’s really improved his in-between game. He makes a lot of float shots, puts the ball on the floor and he’s a very smart player. We’re thrilled with Ian. He’s having a great year.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Detroit Pistons held a players-only meeting after their latest setback … Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves are busy studying themselves (as well as the opposition) in an attempt to solve some issues … Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson is also working hard in the film room … Mike D’Antoni is convinced that the Houston Rockets are indeed “special” this season … Rookie sensation Joel Embiid continues to live up to the hype (and The Process) in Philadelphia … As you might have expected, emotions were high last night in San Antonio when Tim Duncan’s jersey retirement ceremony stole the show …