Photo: Alex Gallardo/AP

Remember when the Los Angeles Clippers were hot out of the gates and the basketball intelligentsia talked about them as a serious threat to the Warriors’ Western Conference dominance? Well.

The Clippers have already been playing without Blake Griffin for almost a month, and now they will be without their full-strength starting lineup for even longer. While L.A. has treaded water just fine sans Griffin, Paul is a much more foundational player. The bulk of his minutes will now go to Austin Rivers, who, while no longer completely butt, is nothing close to the all-around puppet master that Chris Paul is. It’s like replacing the engine of your car with a papier-mâché model of a car engine.

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The Clippers are currently fourth in the west, only a few games ahead of the now-healthy Utah Jazz, but that doesn’t seem too likely to hold, since the team is about to get into the roughest portion of their schedule. Paul will almost certainly be back for the playoffs, but the team may not have home-court advantage in the first round, and may even face one of the three truly elite teams in the west.