'Most loathed' LA Clippers at critical juncture after Blake Griffin injury

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Not much has been going right for the LA Clippers recently - defeat to the Thunder yesterday was their fourth straight, their star point guard Chris Paul is in trouble with the league and their other star, Blake Griffin, needs surgery.

It's been bad headlines all round for the LA franchise then, a team many expected to be contenders for the NBA championship this season.

Their record is still 33-19, but in the ultra competitive Western Conference, a run of bad form can sling you out of the playoff race in a hurry.

Because without Blake, the Clippers have looked anything but a playoff contender.

Just don't expect them to be getting much sympathy from around the league.

Once a good bet for most fans's second team, the Clippers have reportedly become one of the least popular organisations within the league.

Zach Lowe, in a tweet to his boss Bill Simmons of Grantland, said his reporting has them pegged as the 'most loathed' team in the NBA.

The Paul-Griffin-DeAndre 'Lob City' vibe placed the Clippers towards the top of the NBA's Most Exciting to Watch list, and after years in the doldrums, a revived Clipper franchise was a nice feel good story.

Their handling of the Donald Sterling scandal saw the players and coaching staff come through with credit.

They boast the league's best pure point guard, and a physically imposing front court that churns out more highlights than a Beverley Hills beauty salon.

But somewhere along the way they picked up a stink.

Some feel the Clippers reek of entitlement, an opinion furthered by Paul's ill-advised comments after his team's loss to the Cavs last Thursday.

The 'this might not be for her' jibe was stupid for a player, who as the NBA PA president, should know much better. He was hit with a $25,000 fine.

Players trash talk all the time, but there seemed to be a bit of extra needle between Durant and Paul last night. With LeBron, KD and many others, it's all about 'respect'.

Not much 'respect' here though...

Whether it's fair or not, the Clippers are perceived to have an attitude problem. And that came back to bite against the Cavaliers as the refs hit a clearly frustrated Clippers group with a flurry of technicals.

Some of the calls may have been questionable, but professionals get on with the game. They don't lose their cool, they don't let it affect them, and they certainly don't whine about external factors like officiating to excuse poor performance.

They got another excuse this weekend.

Blake's staph infection is a massive blow for a team suffering through a difficult run. The All-Star faces between two and six weeks out, and looking ahead at the Clippers schedule, it couldn't be worse timed.

We’re depleted right now, but no one feels sorry for us - Doc Rivers

They face a brutal Western Conference run. Between now and March 1st, they play the Rockets, Spurs, Grizzlies, Rockets again, Grizzlies again and then the Bulls in Chicago, with a game against the Kings sandwiched in the middle.

And that's after this incredible run of road games.

Thanks to the Grammy Awards...

Tough run, tough break

Per ESPN, the Clippers are averaging almost 14 points more per 100 possessions with Blake on the court than without him.

If worst case scenario strikes and Griffin is out for six weeks, then the Clippers could conceivably let the Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans back in the race for a playoff seed.

"We’re depleted right now, but no one feels sorry for us,” Doc Rivers said after the 131-108 blowout loss to the Thunder.

“You’ve just got to figure it out and keep playing. I thought we had the right game plan going in. We were going to try to plug up the paint and then as the game went on, it just got away from us.”

Without Blake, the Clippers will need to rely on Spencer Hawes. The former-Sixer is not the most mobile so will struggle defensively when paired with Jordan. It hits them on both ends of the court though.

Per Basketball Reference, the Clips are 12.6 points per 100 possessions worse off when DeAndre partners Hawes rather than Griffin. Losing your biggest offensive threat indefinitely is always going to hurt.

They started the Hawes-Jordan combo for the first time this season against the Thunder, and they were destroyed on defense. Mitch McGary put up a double-double, Durant did his thing and Westbrook had more rebounds than both Hawes and Jordan.

It was not a good first impression.

It's safe to assume the Clippers do have some beef with other organisations - there's animosity between them and the Warriors certainly.

In the past, Blake has been part of the Clippers image problem, at least among other teams. Grantland's Lowe even claims Doc Rivers is not as popular throughout the NBA as many people believe.

But they've still got one or two pretty cool things going for them.

One, they boast the most enthusiastic owner in the NBA…

And on their game, they are dynamite to watch…

They've still got the LA showbiz appeal (4th highest attendance in the league), particularly with the Lakers in their current state.

And Doc seems pretty awesome...

The future

The trade for Austin Rivers gave up another second round pick, and they currently don't have a first round draft pick until 2019. GM Doc has not been too savvy so far, and they're pretty much all in on DeAndre, Paul and Griffin.

That's fine, because all three are bona-fide stars. But when you load up on talent, you sacrifice depth and make yourself vulnerable to injuries.

And it's a shame, because in Year Two of the Rivers regime they were looking good. Their defense has slightly improved on a points-per-game basis per Basketball Reference, and their offense remains lights out.

Their D is still shaky against the best teams - they allow 105.0 PPG against teams at/above .500 this season, 96.1 against teams below .500 per ESPN. But nobody would want to face a healthy Clippers team in the playoffs, especially if they were a sixth/seventh seed.

With DeAndre Jordan a free agent at the end of the season, this is make-or-break for a franchise that's mortgaged its future already.

Unfortunately, depending on the severity of Griffin's injury, they may now struggle to hold on to a top eight spot.

Just don't expect the rest of the NBA to care.

LA Clippers
Pacific Division
Western Conference

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