CLIPPERS

Los Angeles Clippers have thrived in injured star Blake Griffin's absence

Never let it be said that J.J. Redick isn't willing to help a rival.

The repeat contestant in the three-point shooting contest was asked during All-Star weekend what advice he would give to Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs, who was making his first appearance in the All-Star game.

"We play them on Thursday," Redick said, referring to the Clippers' game against the Spurs at Staples Center, "so I would just tell him to go to every party, just hit the streets, not pay any attention to basketball, maybe stay out of the gym."

The Clippers have deployed their own kind of merrymaking in recent weeks amid turbulent times.

They are 18-5 since star power forward Blake Griffin was sidelined because of a quadriceps injury and later a broken hand that resulted from an altercation with a team assistant equipment manager. The Clippers (35-18) also have won three of four since Austin Rivers suffered a broken hand Feb. 3, leading to this assessment from Coach Doc Rivers of where his team stands heading into its final 29 games of the regular season.

"Love it," the coach said last week. "Couldn't be in a better place, especially when you factor in the injuries, especially to a top-10 player and what we've gone through, I'll take that all year, every day, so it's nice."

The Clippers are trying to hold on to at least fourth place in the Western Conference standings, which would give them home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Their chances look fairly good. They are 4 1/2 games behind the third-place Oklahoma City Thunder and four games ahead of the fifth-place Memphis Grizzlies, who could be without their starting center the rest of the season after Marc Gasol recently suffered a broken foot.

One factor potentially working against the Clippers in the next few weeks: their schedule. The San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors, the teams with the top two records in the West, are their next two opponents and six of their first 10 games after the All-Star break are against teams with winning records.

The Clippers hope to welcome Griffin and Matias Testi, the assistant equipment manager who sustained a swollen face in the incident involving Griffin, back into their locker room in the coming days. Griffin isn't expected to play in another game until sometime next month after he recovers from his hand injury and serves a four-game suspension for his role in the incident.

Austin Rivers could return sooner, the reserve guard about halfway through his expected monthlong injury absence. The Clippers are also pondering moves that could bolster their backcourt depth before the trade deadline at noon PST on Thursday.

Doc Rivers noted he was not pleased with point guard Chris Paul's heavy usage in recent games with Austin Rivers sidelined. Paul played the entire second half and all of overtime last week during a loss to the Boston Celtics, logging a total of 47 minutes.

The Clippers have largely persevered without Griffin by using smaller lineups, spreading the floor and attempting more three-point shots. One facet of their play that was already improving before Griffin got hurt was their defense.

The Clippers ranked 17th in the NBA in defensive efficiency (101.6 points given up per 100 possessions) and 19th in points allowed (101.7 a game) from the start of the season through the end of November. Since then, they are fourth in defensive efficiency (100.8 points per 100 possessions) and eighth in points allowed (100.3).

"That's been a big part of our run," Redick said. "Without Blake, it's been our defense."

Of course, the Clippers would rather see what they could do with Griffin as soon as possible.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 16, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Liking where they stand - Clippers are solidly in fourth place in the West despite Griffin's absence, other woes." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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