DALLAS -- The text message arrived while Doc Rivers’ team was playing the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night, and the way things were going, the Clippers coach might as well have pulled out his phone to respond.
There wasn’t much Rivers could do about the mess unfolding in front of him.
“I should have texted him during the game myself,” Rivers joked of injured forward Blake Griffin, who informed his coach that he “felt great.”
Those vibes didn’t extend to Griffin’s teammates, who were pulverized during a 129-99 loss at American Airlines Center that qualified as the Clippers’ worst of the season.
The Clippers (42-24) played negligible defense while having their lead over the Mavericks (42-25) for fifth place in the Western Conference shaved to one-half game. But there was optimism that their five-week journey without Griffin may be nearing an end.
Rivers said Griffin had completed what he described as a “hard workout” and could return Sunday, when the Clippers host the Houston Rockets. Rivers said Griffin’s remaining hurdle was “all performance now … just movement of the elbow” that underwent surgery last month to remove a staph infection.
“We all hope he’s back,” center DeAndre Jordan said of Griffin, who has been sidelined since Feb. 8. “We miss him on the floor, so I’m pretty sure he really wants to come back, and we’ll see what happens Sunday.”
What happened to the Clippers on Friday was somewhat predictable.
The Mavericks, coming off a 33-point loss to Cleveland on their home court, played with the urgency of a team with something to prove. The Clippers largely played as if they were hoping to invoke a mercy rule.
The Clippers were within 80-74 late in the third quarter, when the Mavericks went on a 35-9 surge that prompted Rivers to yank his starters midway through the fourth quarter.
Dallas forward Chandler Parsons finished with 22 points, and six other Mavericks scored at least 14 points. The Mavericks shot 60.7% and nearly matched that accuracy from beyond the three-point line, making 16 of 28 shots (57.1%) from long distance.
“As the game went on, we didn’t match their intensity, and ultimately we just got our” butts kicked, said Jordan, who had 16 points and 18 rebounds. “We let them do whatever they wanted to.”
Jordan provided about the only highlight for the Clippers, and it came in the game’s first 90 seconds.
He tracked down a loose ball with the shot clock dwindling and swished an open 26-foot jumper, smiling as he retreated on defense. It was the first three-pointer of his seven-year career after seven misses.
“Highest percentage in the league, probably,” Jordan said of his three-point accuracy. Actually, he has made one of four shots from that distance this season.
More indicative of the Clippers’ play were the two free throws Jordan airballed later in the game. Shooting guard J.J. Redick scored 17 points, and forward Matt Barnes had 14, but point guard Chris Paul (11 points, seven assists) was mostly quiet two nights after torching Oklahoma City for 33 points.
As the Clippers prepared for Griffin’s imminent return, there was a less optimistic report on Jamal Crawford. The shooting guard missed a fifth consecutive game Friday and has not resumed any basketball activities.
The Clippers have gone 9-6 without Griffin, representing little drop-off in their success. They have won 60% of their games without the All-Star, and 64.7% with him.
Of course, they would prefer to put the percentages back in their favor with Griffin in the lineup Sunday.
“I don’t know if he’s playing,” Rivers said. “But he said he felt great.”