OKLAHOMA CITY -- Blake Griffin's right elbow has always been an issue for him.
Nothing that has ever caused him to miss playing time before, but it is something Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers' training staff have monitored since he entered the NBA. Griffin routinely plays through a burst bursa sac in his right elbow and periodically needs to get it drained during the course of the season.
Griffin's bursitis was once again an issue when the team was in New York on Monday to play the Brooklyn Nets. He got his right elbow drained in a fairly routine procedure for him as the team traveled to Cleveland on Wednesday to play the Cavaliers on Thursday.
But something wasn't right. When Griffin removed the sleeve and the pad covering his right elbow, his teammates and coaches commented on the size of it.
"We were joking around with him when he didn't have the pad on it and how big it was getting," Spencer Hawes said. "I don't think anyone anticipated that was the cause."
After the Clippers played in Toronto on Friday, team trainer Jasen Powell knew Griffin's elbow wasn't right and sent him to the hospital straight from the team bus after the Clippers landed in Oklahoma City on Saturday. That was when the staph infection in Griffin's right elbow was detected and it was determined he needed to fly back to Los Angeles on Sunday for surgery on Monday.
"You could tell when something is infected, you can just look at it," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "With a bursa sac it could just be that too, but it just didn't look right. J.P. caught that and sent him early enough, thank goodness."
It's hard to determine exactly how long Griffin will be sidelined until the procedure is completed, but team officials said he could miss anywhere from 10 days to six weeks. At the very least he missed Sunday's 131-108 loss to Oklahoma City and will miss the next two games against Dallas and Houston as well as the NBA All-Star Game.
Griffin watched Sunday's loss from the Clippers' locker room with his right elbow taped. He immediately left for his flight to Los Angeles after the game without addressing reporters.
The Clippers knew this would be the toughest stretch of their season. When they are done playing the Mavericks in Dallas on Monday they will have finished playing 10 games in 10 different cities over 16 days with the last eight coming on the road. Players and coaches talked about surviving this stretch before it began, but when they boarded their flight out of Oklahoma City on Sunday, Griffin wasn't with them and no one knows how long he will be out.
In addition to Griffin, J.J. Redick and Glen Davis are out with back spasms and there's no firm timetable on either player's return, although both could be back as early as next week. Either way, the Clippers had gone through the first 45 games of the season without a single starter missing a game and now have been hit hard by the injury bug right before the All-Star break.
"As is often the case, when it rains it pours," said Hawes, who had a season-high 17 points filling in for Griffin in the starting lineup on Sunday. "A lot of teams have gone through this. Some early and some now, some people get hurt when they're trying to make the push at the end. It's never a good time to get key guys hurt, but you'd probably rather it be now than the stretch run."
For the first time since January 2013, when Vinny Del Negro was still patrolling the Clippers' sideline, the team has lost four straight games. In addition, the Clippers have trailed by more than 30 points in the second half in two of their past three games and they've trailed by more than 20 points in three straight games. Meanwhile, they've allowed 120 points in two straight.
It's probably the worst stretch of basketball the Clippers have played since Chris Paul joined the team a little more than three years ago. It likely will take Paul playing at an MVP level, like Griffin did when Paul was out for 20 games last season, for the Clippers to weather this storm.
"It needs to be the opposite," DeAndre Jordan said. "Chris has to do the same thing. He has to step up while Blake is out. I'm just going to continue to do my job and anything more I can give, that's what I have to be able to do. I'm not going to step way outside of my role; that'd be foolish. Other guys have to step up."
Paul has been healthier than he has ever been in his career this season, playing in all 51 games, but understands it won't be easy replacing Griffin as he said "tough" 11 times during his brief postgame interview with reporters.
"It's tough losing Blake," Paul said. "We'll try to regroup and get ready for the next game. It's going to be tough. We knew it wasn't going to be easy. We have a tough one [Monday] in Dallas. We've got to be ready for that one. Everybody has to step up."
While it would be natural to expect Paul to be more aggressive offensively and look for his shot more with Griffin out, Rivers doesn't want him playing out of his comfort zone. The coach wants everyone on the team to collectively help fill the void and not simply look to the other star on the team to carry the load of both players.
"It's got to be a team," Rivers said. "It's got to be everybody. I can't expect Chris to go out and get 40 a night. Our other guys have to play well. It can't be one guy. It's not going to be one guy."