Milwaukee Bucks Can’t Catch a Break
Earlier today, the Milwaukee Bucks announced that forward Jabari Parker suffered a torn ACL in last night’s contest against the Miami HEAT. This is the same ACL that Parker tore in 2014.
Selected second overall in the 2014 Draft, Parker came into the NBA with high expectations. Parker didn’t set the league on fire with his early play but his athleticism, overall skill set and flashes of star-level play made it clear that he had a ton of potential. Parker made huge strides in his game this season, showing improved rebounding, playmaking and overall scoring efficiency.
Before this injury, Parker was enjoying his best individual season in the NBA. Over 51 games played this season, Parker was averaging 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and one steal per game while shooting 49 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from three-point range. In particular, Parker’s three-point shooting has improved significantly. In his first two seasons in the NBA, Parker shot just 25 percent and 25.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Parker and teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo formed arguably the most athletic and one of the most versatile forward duos in the NBA. Their ability to play either forward position, handle the ball, create plays for teammates, switch effectively on defense and push the ball in transition made them a unique pairing.
Earlier this week, Khris Middleton made his return to action after missing the first few months of the season due to a torn hamstring muscle he suffered during the offseason. Middleton’s return comes at an opportune time, as he can try to fill in for Parker in certain lineups. However, Middleton will need to ease back into action and it will take time for him to get back into game shape. The sooner Middleton can offset the loss of Parker, the better off Milwaukee will be as they are currently 22-29 and two games behind the Detroit Pistons, who hold the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff seed.
Whether Middleton can come close to filling in for Parker is yet to be determined, but either way, losing Parker is a huge setback for a young Bucks team that is looking to take the next step in its collective development.
Blake Griffin Rounding Into Form for Struggling Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers have lost seven of their last 10 games, had lost three straight before overcoming the New York Knicks on Wednesday night and are two games behind the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference playoff race. Had the Clippers known before the start of the season that they wouldn’t hold a top-four playoff seed at this point in the season, they would have every right to panic. However, considering the injuries the team has already suffered this season, holding a 32-21 record isn’t too alarming, especially now that Blake Griffin is rounding into midseason form.
In late December, the Clippers announced that Griffin would undergo an operation to remove loose bodies from his right knee. The operation sidelined Griffin for roughly five weeks, in which time the Clippers won 10 of their 18 games. Unfortunately, on January 16, Chris Paul tore a ligament in his left thumb, which required surgery and has kept him sidelined ever since.
Skeptics of this team could use these ongoing injuries and inconsistent play as cause to dismiss the Clippers’ hopes for a deep playoff run this season – especially those who subscribe to the Clippers’ curse theory. However, with Paul set to return sometime in early to mid-March and, perhaps even more importantly, with Griffin playing at a high level since his return, the Clippers have reason to believe they can compete at a high level in the postseason.
Since returning to the court, Griffin has averaged 24.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 52.9 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range. Despite Griffin’s nice stat lines, the team’s offense still looks relatively disjointed and the defense has dropped off significantly since Paul’s injury. However, the Clippers did manage to score in transition frequently against the Knicks on Wednesday night, outscoring New York 30 to 6 in fast break points. The Clippers also utilized Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on offense with more consistency. Griffin and Jordan collectively produced 60 points and 23 rebounds, and caused problems for the Knicks frontcourt throughout the game.
Assuming Paul comes back healthy and with enough time to get back into game-shape before the postseason starts, the Clippers will likely have the firepower to make it out of the first round. However, assuming the postseason started today, the Clippers would face a talented, well-coached Jazz squad that has the pieces to make life extremely difficult for Los Angeles. Griffin would need to be performing at the height of his abilities, as he and Jordan would be up against Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, one of the biggest and most effective defensive frontcourts in the league. Considering all of this, it makes a lot of sense for the Clippers to continue exploring possible trades to bring in Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony doesn’t address the Clippers biggest weakness, which right now is their defense. However, he theoretically adds enough scoring for the Clippers to keep up with any opponent on any given night. There’s no guarantee that adding Anthony will get the Clippers out of the second-round of the playoffs, but it’s an acquisition worth pursuing. As Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler detailed this morning, though, Phil Jackson’s public attempt to make Anthony uncomfortable in New York as a means convincing him to waive his no-trade clause isn’t likely to succeed. The Clippers may have strong interest in pursuing Anthony, but given the current state of affairs in New York, he may not be leaving the Knicks anytime soon.
Even when healthy, the Clippers are not favored to make it out of the Western Conference playoffs this season. The Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs are a tier above Los Angeles and the Houston Rockets and Jazz are both significant Western Conference challengers as well. But it is encouraging that Griffin has looked spry since his return, is posting significant numbers and has not shown any signs of lingering issues from his surgery. He and Jordan, along with the Clippers’ other key players, will need to play at a high level until Paul’s return to hold off losing any more ground in the playoff race. The stakes are high for the Clippers this season, but fortunately for them, it seems as though Griffin will be playing at a high level once the postseason comes around.
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