(EPA)

The Los Angeles Clippers are 33-19 and 8.5 games behind the Pacific Division leader Golden State Warriors, putting the Clippers playoff chances at a robust 99.6 percent according to Sports Club Stats. However, if the season ended today, they would be the sixth seed in the West, a half-game ahead of the San Antonio Spurs and 4.5 games ahead of the Phoenix Suns.

But this is the Western Conference, where one injury is all it takes to derail a season, and the Clippers are faced with that injury: Star forward Blake Griffin has a staph infection in his right elbow and will be out of the lineup at least through the all-star break.

It could be serious. It shouldn’t be, but you have to be very careful with that injury,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said Sunday. “You just have to be careful. Everybody’s bodies are different with infections, and all infections are different. They’re not even sure what antibiotics you give him yet. They have to do all the culture work and stuff. I don’t know [how long he’ll be out]. It could be a while.”

Griffin will miss at least three games: Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Mavericks, and Houston Rockets. But even the best-case scenarios have him out four to six weeks, which means he will be out for:

  • Nine games against Western Conference teams currently qualifying for the playoffs
  • Three games against Oklahoma City and New Orleans, two teams fighting for the eighth and final spot of the playoffs
  • Games against the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls, two Eastern Conference playoff contenders

And that’s where the Clippers playoff hopes start to take a hit. Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists a game while shooting 50.1 percent from the floor, so his production will be hard to replace.

BLAKE GRIFFIN FGA DURING 2014-15 REGULAR SEASON (2014-15)
BLAKE GRIFFIN FGA DURING 2014-15 REGULAR SEASON (2014-15)

The 25-year-old power forward is also setting career highs in assists per game (5.2), so he not only scores, but he facilitates the offense as well.

Blake Griffin - Assists

“I can’t expect Chris [Paul] to go out and get 40 a night,” Rivers said. “Our key other guys all have to play well. It can’t be one guy.”

Griffin leads the team in points and shot attempts plus draws a double team, so it makes it even more difficult to replace him on the court. And it doesn’t look like a rotation of DeAndre Jordan, Glen Davis, and Spencer Hawes is up to the task.

Jordan, Hawes, and Davis combined have taken 14.8 shots per game, but won’t put much fear into opposing teams averaging 10.3, 6.3 and 3.4 points per game, respectively. Plus, the Clippers are 11.4 net points per 100 possessions better with Griffin on the court than when he is on the bench. Jordan’s on/off differential has been more than respectable but Hawes and Davis? Not as much. In fact, it has been disastrous with them on the court. Jordan’s net rating comes with a caveat: he is only used on 12.1 percent of Los Angeles’ possessions, whereas Griffin led the team in usage at 29.2 percent. If Jordan is asked to assume a larger role in the offense, his net rating will almost assuredly take a hit. For example, against the Brooklyn Nets earlier this month, Jordan was used on 24.8 percent of the Clippers’ plays. It was the only game this season where his usage went above 20 percent and his net rating that game was plus-2 in the loss. An extremely small sample size, but a player who averages 0.6 assists per game and doesn’t take three-point shots won’t fill the Griffin-size hole left in the Clippers’ offense with more touches.

It gets worse.

Using Griffin’s on and off court points scored/allowed per 100 possessions in the Pythagorean win formula shows us just how critical he will be to the team’s future performance. In other words, with Griffin on the court the team scores 117.2 points per 100 possessions and allows 103.5, producing an estimated 0.851 win percentage. With him off the court, that drops to 0.579 — a difference of eight wins over the remaining 30 games. Over the next 19 games, that becomes a five-win difference, which could be enough to drop them out of the playoffs.