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Slinging The Bruise

NBA

Opponents are increasingly inclined to commit hard fouls on Griffin, denying Clippers rookie his signature dunks and sending him to the line, if not the ER

February 08, 2011|LISA DILLMAN

ORLANDO, FLA. — Unfortunately, for Blake Griffin, other versions of the double-double exist and involve him.

They usually are in plain sight in the Clippers' locker room after most games: An ice bag on Griffin's right knee. An ice bag on his left knee.

Welcome, rookie, to the NBA.

As brilliant as Griffin's first decisive swath through the league has been, the young power forward has taken a beating and has the ice bags, ice baths and tape to prove it.

"That's the way he plays -- he looks for contact," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said Monday after practice. "He's got a power game, an athletic game and he's going to be around contact. There's no going around that right now."

This was one day after Griffin was at the wrong end of a flagrant foul from the Miami Heat's Eddie House to stop a fastbreak.

As Griffin's highlight videos have gone viral because of his thunderous dunks, opposing teams have made him a target, swarming him in the paint to prevent any open dunks.

Or as Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra called it, the "Dwight Howard treatment" on defense.

This has been the widely copied pattern, as Griffin's dunks started to become legendary. Also factoring into the situation: Griffin's spotty free-throw shooting, 60.7% on the season, increasing opponents' incentive to put him on the line. Howard, the Orando Magic center, has the same issue; he's at 57.9%.

House even explained himself to Griffin after the foul, saying he was trying to slow him down within the limits.

"I said, 'Dude, I wasn't trying to hurt you. I don't play dirty. I'm not a dirty player.' " House said. "So I try to do things within the game. It was a hard foul and that's what it was."

The 76ers' Elton Brand also committed a flagrant foul against Griffin on Dec. 17 at Philadelphia, taking him out in the air. Then there was the most blatant act to date, perpetrated Dec. 5 by the Trail Blazers' Andre Miller, who received a one-game suspension -- after the fact -- for his running hit on Griffin in Portland. In that same game, another former Clipper and beloved mentor, Marcus Camby, got Griffin with a flagrant foul.

"Everybody is bigger and stronger and we play a lot more games," Griffin said after practice Monday, ice bags on both knees and another on his elbow, for good measure.

"It takes more out of you. It's not something like, 'I wish this would stop happening.' It's just one of those things that's going to happen.

"I think I've learned to deal with it a little bit better, each game I play. Every season, I learn more and more how to deal with it."

Certainly Griffin is no pinata. His size and strength work toward preventing that, and he went crashing hard into a cameraman behind the baseline in the first half Sunday in Miami. Afterward, the cameraman's assistant, walking by press row, shook his head and said, "Camera not doing so good."

But even fierce-dunking power forwards need some protective services. To put it bluntly . . . an enforcer on the Clippers would greatly help Griffin.

Of late, his most willing protector has been point guard Baron Davis. Davis has that necessary nasty-as-he-has-to-be edge, but the Clippers aren't paying him $13 million per season to administer street justice.

"I wouldn't really count me out. I like my chances against anybody," Davis said, laughing.

The Clipper best equipped for enforcing happens to be wearing a sports coat and looking sharp on the sideline. That would be power forward Craig Smith, a.k.a. "Rhino," who not only can put the hurt on opponents but has often crushed his teammates in practice.

"It's tough to watch," said Smith, who has been sidelined since Dec. 18 because of an injured back. "Blake's a beast. And guys don't want Blake to get those easy buckets. They're told to foul him and foul him hard. BD [Davis] is doing a good job out there being an enforcer.

"At the same time, we've got to be protective of him to make sure he isn't harmed in any type of way."

Smith also spoke about House's flagrant foul.

"You have some people who think they are tough guys," Smith said. "And when they come up against a real tough guy they kind of steer back. That's what happened in that situation."

Until Smith returns or the Clippers make a move to counteract the pounding, Griffin keeps learning, adjusting and icing.

The double- and triple-teaming and closing off the lane has resulted in Howard's recently passing Griffin for the NBA lead in dunks. Howard has 131 this season, Griffin 116, and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan stands third at 94.

Griffin has been down this road in the past, albeit at lower levels.

"They did the same thing to me in high school," he said. "And I learned how to deal with it there. They did the same thing to me in college [at Oklahoma]. Learned how to deal with it there.

"It's a learning process, not something that's going to happen right now or overnight. There's a lot of stuff I'm going to be a lot better at, this time next year."

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

twitter.com/reallisa

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

More time at the line

Blake Griffin's free-throw attempts per game have increased every month this season.

*--* Month G FT% FTA October 3 60.9 7.66 November 15 58.0 7.93 December 15 58.6 8.53 January 14 69.2 9.5 February 3 43.8 10.67 *--*

FTA: Free-throw attempts per game

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