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Clippers' Blake Griffin has learned not to be bugged by NBA thuggery

Clippers power forward Blake Griffin knows it's a physical game in NBA and it will get even rougher in playoff

The NBA playoffs are upon us. For Blake Griffin, that means the beginning of his two-sport season. Basketball and Wrestlemania.

The days of finesse in Dr. Naismith's game are as long gone as the peach baskets. The sport is about as noncontact as NASCAR. Hard drives to the basket are now life-threatening. There is more holding in an NBA game than there used to be in the back seat at a drive-in movie.

For Griffin, a 6-foot-10 and 250-pound superstar, his very existence and fate is defined by his position. He is a power forward. He plays the big guys. They play him.

He admits to being physical. He has to be. That is the game now.

Before long, the league will be stealing offensive tackles from the NFL to set the high picks. They set them like pulling guards now, anyway. The last non-moving (and legal) pick in the NBA was in 1950, when the Fort Wayne Pistons were playing the Sheboygan Red Skins.

Monday night, Griffin pretty much had a night off, even while playing 40 of 48 minutes. The Denver Nuggets were in town and are less physical than many teams. There was nary a Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol to be found.

But with Griffin around, there are always moments. With 6 minutes 46 seconds left in the fourth period of a very competitive game, Denver's Kenneth Faried came down with a rebound and smashed elbows and shoulders into Griffin, who hit the deck as the crowd groaned and grunted its anger and concern.

Griffin just got up. He didn't even get free throws.

Later, with the game on the line, Griffin backed down Faried, who was leaning on him like a drunk at the bar, and muscled up a layup. He was fouled, made the free throw and cut the Clippers' deficit to 96-93. Jamal Crawford quickly followed with a three-point play of his own and soon Chris Paul was sending a dagger into the Nuggets with a three-point basket for a 101-97 lead with just over two minutes left.

The rest of the time, Griffin was just incurring welts. With less than four minutes gone in the first period, he tried to drive to the basket and was hacked repeatedly by Wilson Chandler. A few minutes later, 7-foot Jusuf Nurkic draped all 280 pounds on Griffin en route to the basket. It was closer to a full-body massage than a foul.

The playoffs ahead will just ramp up the physical stuff. Half the things that will happen on the NBA courts in upcoming days would be labeled felony assault on the streets.

So, we decided to ease into the subject in an interview with Griffin before Monday's game.

Question: “So when is the first time you wanted to just cold cock one of these guys?”

Griffin laughed, then offered perfect perspective.

“The rough stuff started back in high school [in Oklahoma],” he said. “The state has lots of big guys, mostly football players, and so there were lots of guys trying lots of things to stop me. They tried everything.”

Griffin knows he draws a lot of this naturally. He is a big guy. His style is both rugged and smooth.

“I sure expect to have contact,” he said. “But my dad taught me long ago how to handle it, even the real rough stuff. He said it takes a much tougher man not to punch somebody.”

Griffin said he gets angry often at all the rough stuff, especially things that seem unnecessary. But he said the lessons from his father, who was a good basketball player himself, remain.

“You need to keep the same demeanor,” he said. “You get suspended, you hurt your team. You need to always show they can't get inside your head. They can call you anything they want, but remember one thing. Lots of tough guys go to their graves.”

Griffin said he has nothing but respect for many big guys he faces. He named Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki.

Then there is Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Griffin called a shot from Ibaka his most memorable mugging.

“It was like my second year in the league,” he said. “I got a roundhouse shot from him below the waist.

“We are not best friends.”

Statistics tell a lot about the kind of rough-and-tumble year Griffin has had. Griffin has had 423 free throws and made 307. The attempts are second-most on the team, behind DeAndre Jordan's 468, and Jordan's attempts are obviously an opposing-team strategy. Paul has made 289 free throws.

Both Jordan and Paul have played in all 81 games. Griffin missed 15 with his infected elbow.

Griffin admitted that there was a time he did not walk to the free-throw line with great confidence.

Now he does, which is bad news for opposing thuggery.

“I'm very comfortable, driving hard, getting fouled and walking to the line now,” he said.

The Clippers' 110-103 victory improved their playoff positioning, but that is still muddied, with one game left in their season.

One thing is clear. When push comes to shove, Griffin will be ready.

Follow Bill Dwyre on Twitter @DwyreLATimes

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