Blake Griffin.

Now more than ever, Blake Griffin is the key to Clippers' season

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Today might be Blake Griffin's birthday but, for most Los Angeles Clippers fans, it is another important date that springs to mind when the perennial All-Star's name crops up right now. December 25, 2015.

Due to a number of factors - ranging from a quad injury picked up over the festive period to a broken hand sustained in an altercation with a Clippers staff member - that was the last time he took to the court for the L.A. franchise.

The Clippers have been sans Griffin for a total of 36 consecutive games since and, for the most part, they've coped well in his absence, putting up a 25-11 record since Christmas Day on route to fourth place in the Western Conference standings.

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Events over the past seven days, however, have highlighted the growing need to get the now 27-year-old power forward back on the hardwood as soon as possible.

Losses to three fellow title contenders - the Oklahoma City Thunder by 12 points, Cleveland Cavaliers by 24 and last night's 108-87 reverse against San Antonio - have served as a reminder that, without Griffin, dreams of a title will prove exceptionally hard to turn into a reality.

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Clippers head coach Doc Rivers essentially admitted as much after Tuesday night's game against the Spurs:

"We don't look at the big picture right now," he told reporters, via CBS Sports. "Because we're not good enough to do that without [Griffin]."

Chris Paul offered a similar sentiment following the Clippers' blowout loss to the Cavs, admitting it was tough being without one of the franchise's biggest stars.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Clippers

Unfortunately for Rivers, Paul and the role players who have stepped up in recent months, the birthday boy is still some way off a return.

Return required

When factoring in the fact Griffin still needs to be cleared for full practice, as well as serve a four-game suspension when he is given the green light, the latest speculation puts his comeback at some point in April.

Now, of course, the Clippers' recent blip isn't going to cost them a spot in the 2016 NBA playoffs and let's not forget, too, the positives that surrounded the franchise in January and February. 

Without Griffin, a more pass-happy system appeared to form and it paid off in a lot of games. The likes of JJ Reddick and Paul Pierce showed new signs of life, and a Plan B that could prove very useful was formed.

Los Angeles Clippers v Denver Nuggets

X factor

Nevertheless, their struggles against the NBA's elite have shown that if the Clippers aren't able to get Griffin back before the postseason begins, their time in those playoffs could be short lived.

The Oklahoma native demands respect from opponents and offers another playmaking outlet for a Clippers team that look one-dimensional at times as they over rely on CP3.

Having him in the lineup inevitably sets opponents back on their heels slightly and he was, after all, setting career numbers before his recent spell on the sidelines.

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Clippers

The franchise is running out of time, however, with just four weeks left of the regular season. If Griffin is to be at his ominous best come crunch time, he needs to find his rhythm before the playoffs begin. 

If he can do that, then the Clippers might just have reason to be optimistic a few weeks removed from this difficult spell.

And, if Griffin can lead the team to the Western Conference Finals or beyond, it would certainly be the best belated birthday present he could ask for. 

LA Clippers
Pacific Division
Western Conference
Chris Paul
Blake Griffin
DeAndre Jordan

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