When Blake Griffin was finishing up his workout after the Clippers shootaround Tuesday morning, the sweat dripping down his body after every hard drill he went through with the assistant coaches, coach Doc Rivers had seen enough to be convinced of one big thing.
Rivers said Griffin “actually could” play in Friday night’s game against the Lakers at Staples Center.
Griffin has now been out 14 games rehabilitating a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
Before the Clippers played the Sacramento Kings at home Tuesday night, Rivers was asked what L.A. has missed since Griffin went down Nov. 27 against the Lakers.
“Offensively, you just miss so much of what he can do and all the other stuff,” Rivers said. “But he’s really close. Will he play tonight? No. Will he play next game? He actually could. So he’s that close.”
When Griffin suffered his knee injury in a collision with teammate Austin Rivers, the Clippers said their All-Star power forward could be out up to eight weeks.
But Rivers said Griffin is “way ahead of schedule” in his possible comeback Friday night.
If he does play against the Lakers, Griffin would have been out three-plus weeks.
Obviously, Rivers agreed, Griffin appears to have progressed quicker than expected.
“I just know his work ethic has to have something to do with it,” Rivers said. “Blake, he gets a lot of heat for getting injured. But no one gives him credit for getting healthy. And he works his butt off, I’m telling you, like no one I’ve ever seen since I’ve been here.
“Blake does not want to miss games. Blake wants to play. And if you could see him work in the gym, everyone would understand that.”
Griffin went through a variety of drills Tuesday with Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell and Larry Abney, the team’s basketball operations assistant.
Griffin wore a black brace on his knee, the intensity of each drill ramped up to a higher degree.
When he was done, Griffin was bent over, tired from all the work he had just put in at the Clippers practice facility in Playa Vista.
“I haven’t seen him do a lot of live stuff like this, one on one,” Austin Rivers said. “That’s good to see … that’s encouraging.”
The Clippers even got good news when Doc Rivers announced that small forward Wesley Johnson also could play against the Lakers on Friday night.
Johnson has been out for five straight games with soreness in his left foot.