Guess who's back? Blake Griffin is one week from rejoining the L.A. Clippers after his infamous broken hand injury and suspension. As such, it seems like the perfect time to check in on the Clip Show. Enjoy this week's edition of Flanns & Zillz.
FLANNERY: I would like to talk about the Clippers, and not just because I rather foolishly picked them to win the title. I'm off that nonsense, but I feel like you and I are two of the last remaining holdouts on the bandwagon. This is still a really good team, and if it wasn't for that slow start back in November, they'd be even stronger.
Oklahoma City is universally acclaimed as the only team that could maybe, possibly, beat Golden State or San Antonio in a playoff series, but I think that the Clips are at least as dangerous a foe. I'm not crazy, right?
ZILLER: You aren't crazy. While the Clippers haven't looked like the model contender at any point this season, and in fact to the contrary have shot themselves in the foot repeatedly, they remain the last team to beat each of the Warriors and the Spurs in the playoffs. Both Golden State and San Antonio have evolved and are much better than the versions that lost to L.A., but this remains the only team that beat either and in fact BOTH in the last two postseasons.
Needless to say, we're going to need to see how Blake Griffin plays over the final two weeks of the season and a likely first-round series against Memphis before this is a real concern. But it's lining up for a shot at the Warriors in Round 2, a shot that LA fumbled away last spring by letting the Rockets through the door.
FLANNERY: I'm still mad at them for losing that series to Houston, by the way. A good bit of the negativity that hovers around them would have been wiped away if they had managed to get to the conference finals, especially after beating the Spurs.
That's the other thing. They bring a lot of this down on themselves. Not only with their performances, but also with their actions. Enough with the whining to officials, and please Chris Paul, no more nutmegs, okay?
And that brings us to Blake Griffin. What an unconscionably irresponsible thing he did. With the possible exception of Kevin Love, does any player need a bigger postseason to repair the damage done to his reputation than Blake?
ZILLER: Oh, he needs it more than Love. James Harden could use it, too, but that's a pipe dream. Griffin should be well-rested and hungry to right his wrongs. He looked like the third-best player in the world a year ago. He was phenomenal before the injury and the punch this season. And with the battered Grizzlies looming, he has a shot to potentially finish off that old foe Grit 'n Grind for good. He needs this redemption, and it's waiting for him.
I'm a little concerned about his shot given how vital it's been to LA's attack, and I have qualms about the precision of the Clippers' attack and defensive scheme given the long layoff. If it's the Warriors in Round 2, there's just no margin to play catch-up. The Clips need to be perfect if they want to win, just as was the case against San Antonio last year.
FLANNERY: Yep. That should be plenty of time to get back in rhythm, and I love the idea that their postseason will start with a chance to bury some Memphis ghosts. It's funny how we remember those battles. The Clippers did beat Memphis and on the Grizzlies' home floor in a Game 7, no less. We often think of the Grizzlies being tougher, but the Clips have shown some mettle over the years.
I'm a little concerned by the notion that this is an all-or-nothing proposition for these guys. Everybody's under contract for next season. There's no reason to box yourself in like that. You were firmly on the side of Don't Trade Blake earlier in the year and I assume you haven't moved off that stance. There just that many guys better than him. Is there any scenario that makes sense from your perspective?
ZILLER: So, stars in their prime get traded in two types of deals: for youth-focused packages and for equivalent stars. There are deadly few equivalent stars -- not Melo, not Love, not Harden. So, that's basically out. On the other end, LA just isn't in a position to trade for a future-looking package given the makeup of the team. The Miami suggestion focused on Justise Winslow is intriguing, but you can't run out the final years of CP3's prime with a raw 20-year-old. I just don't see a match. Blake is too good.
DeAndre Jordan is pretty darn good, too, but that might be a route for LA if the Clippers lose early or particularly violently. If Jordan can land you two above-average players, it's worth taking a look. What do you think about Doc's decisions to come?
We all know GM Doc's track record. His roster moves have been shaky at best and harmful at worst. That's another reason why I think it's best to continue staying the course. Through all their stuff, the Clippers have one of the five best teams in the league. It's their bad luck that they're in the Pacific time zone. Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time. What if Kevin Durant bolts, or Tim Duncan retires or people get hurt? I don't think you should break that up lightly.
We've gone all this way and haven't even mentioned Chris Paul. He's had better statistical seasons, but keeping this team afloat without Blake has to be one of his crowning achievements. In any other year, he's a top-five MVP candidate. In this one, he's not even First Team All-NBA. I think a bigger question here is how much longer can he keep this up, and does he force his way out if things go south again?
ZILLER: I'm less worried about Chris Paul in his 30s than others. He's a cerebral player, perhaps in competition with LeBron for the smartest conductor of his generation. He's quick and athletic, but he's also tough as nails and I can see him aging really well. Little guys typically don't last as long in the league (see Isiah Thomas), but CP3 seems to have staying power. It's hard to keep up this level of production for more than a couple of years for anyone, but then again incredibly few players are ever this good. Period.
I don't think CP3 will seek to escape unless they trade Blake and things get ugly. Paul's had some great success in LA and that's not guaranteed, even for top players. He can ask his friend Melo about that.
FLANNERY: And they can ask 25 other teams what it's like to go through life without two superstars and a legit chance at 55 wins every year. Stay the course, Clips. No matter how bumpy these playoff waters get.
ZILLER: Get a small forward, though. For the love of the Basketball Gods, get a small forward.
* * *
March Madness: How big of a Cinderella story is Syracuse?
Be sure to subscribe to SB Nation's YouTube channel for highlight videos, features, analysis and more