The loss of Blake Griffin was supposed to cost the Clippers home court advantage in the opening round of the 2016 NBA playoffs.
With Golden State chasing the single-season record for victories — and San Antonio just 3.5 games behind — the top two seeds in the Western Conference are out of reach.
A healthy Thunder squad entered the All-Star break with 40 victories, just five fewer than the team totaled all of last season.
Los Angeles has been without Griffin since he suffered an injury to his quadricep muscle on Christmas Day, and his recovery time was extended as the result of a bizarre off the court incident, as he was required to undergo surgery on his hand after he punched out a team equipment manager at a restaurant in Toronto.
The loss of Griffin has accidentally unlocked the most potent lineup for the Clippers, as the team is shooting 47 percent from the field and scoring 107.8 points per game since losing the All-Star power forward.
The Clippers have posted a 15-5 record since Griffin suffered his injury and are outscoring opponents by seven points per game.
Instead of relying on Griffin to supply a majority of the offense, the Clippers have found success by simply lobbing the ball at the rim.
Anything fired at the rim seems to find its way into the hands of center DeAndre Jordan, either for an alley-oop or just a simple rebound.
Through 51 games, Jordan is converting 70.3 percent of his attempts from the field, the highest percentage in the league, as most of his shots are rim rattling dunks. Jordan has dunked on 153 occasions, 36 more than anyone else in the league this season.
Opponents haven’t found a way to consistently box out the 6-foot-11 center, as he has led the league in defensive rebounds and total rebounds each of the past two years and is on pace to average over 13.5 rebounds for the third consecutive season.
Since Griffin suffered his injury, Jordan has been held without a double-double just once, as the game against New York was so far out of reach that he played just 28 minutes, but still managed to grab eight rebounds.
In his last 20 games, Jordan is averaging 13.8 points, 15.9 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game.
Even while losing Griffin for an extended period of time, the Clippers haven’t slipped in the standings because of the dominant play of Jordan.
Brandan Wright– Memphis Grizzlies
Available in 81% of Yahoo! fantasy leagues
The Grizzlies have been waiting for Wright to be cleared by doctors following arthroscopic knee surgery in mid-December, but his return is even more vital now. Memphis has lost starting center Marc Gasol indefinitely after he fractured his right foot. Although he has been limited to just seven games with the Grizzlies, Wright provided plenty of fantasy value, averaging 1.4 blocks and shooting 60 percent from the field.
Bobby Portis– Chicago Bulls
Available in 84% of Yahoo fantasy leagues
A foot injury to Taj Gibson has opened up additional playing time for Portis in Chicago. Just before the All-Star break, the rookie out of Arkansas posted his third double-double of the season, tallying 12 points, 10 rebounds and a block in just 23 minutes against Atlanta. Portis has tallied three or more offensive rebounds in three of his last four outings and his 1.7 offensive rebounds per game ranks as the fifth most among all rookies this season.
Maurice Harkless– Portland Trail Blazers
Available in 94% of Yahoo! fantasy leagues
Portland has started Harkless in three of its last four games and he has responded to his increased role. In his final appearances before the All-Star break, the 6-foot-9 forward submitted his best outing of the season, scoring 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field to go along with 13 rebounds, two steals and an assist. The former St. John’s star is an effective shooter, converting 47.6 percent of his attempts from the field and since moving into the starting lineup, Harkless has posted 1.7 steals per game.
Mario Hezonja– Orlando Magic
Available in 96% of Yahoo! fantasy leagues
It took Hezonja 40 games to carve a place into the Magic rotation and the fifth overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft has been able to showcase his prolific scoring abilities. After closing out the month with a career-high 17 points against the Celtics, Hezonja has scored in double figures in four of his last seven games. Two games after his career-high, Hezonja buried four shots from 3-point range as part of a 16 point effort against Oklahoma City. The Magic may be active at the trade deadline, possibly opening up more playing time for the rookie.
Raymond Felton– Dallas Mavericks
Available in 91% of Yahoo! fantasy leagues
The Mavericks have adjusted their rotation to incorporate additional playing time for Felton. In the past 10 games, Felton has spent at least 20 minutes on the floor, averaging 11.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game. Felton saved his best performance for the game prior to the All-Star break, as he posted 17 points, seven rebounds, five assists and a steal in 28 minutes against the Jazz. The best sign about his scoring outburst was that it took only nine shots to tally the point total, as he earned six trips to the foul line and converted each attempt.