With the jubilation in Clipperdom as fervent as it has been in a long time, murmurs of the impossible have created their own undercurrent. The record says 15-25, but those last 14 games weren’t a fluke, right? They were a progression meant to build upon and grow. Like Blake’s personal numbers, the team’s have only improved from month to month. October/November yielded a 3-16 record, December a 7-8 record and now, in January, a 5-2 record. And with the way the team has been playing, knocking off the Heat and the Lakers in the same week, it bears asking, can this team make the playoffs?
Before you spit up your drink, take a second here. Both of Vinny’s Chicago teams were well outside of the playoff picture before finishing strong. Even Baron’s Golden State Warriors, a season after beating the Mavericks started 0-6 before righting themselves to win 48 games. And in this year’s West, 48 games isn’t needed. Strong finishes can happen.
What would probably be needed to get in the second season? At this rate, probably about 44 wins. Maybe 45. Meaning the Clippers would have to go at least 29-13 the remaining stretch of the way. The biggest obstacle? The road where they will have 26 of their next 42 games.
The Clippers play five of their next 8 games at home (v. Wolves, @Portland, v. Warriors, @Dallas, @Houston, v. Charlotte, v. Milwaukee, v. Chicago), and they’ll probably have to win 6, because afterwards, the Clippers are in for a grueling challenge. Starting February 4th, the Clippers play an 11 game road trip (effectively 10, the last game is in Staples v. the Lakers). And those road games aren’t exactly Eastern Conference cake-walks. Check it:
2/4 Atlanta (27-15)
2/6 Miami (30-12)
2/8 Orlando (26-15)
2/9 Knicks (22-18)
2/11 Cleveland (8-32)
2/13 Toronto (13-28)
2/14 Milwaukee (14-24)
2/16 Minnesota (10-32)
All Star Break
2/22 Oklahoma City (27-14)
2/23 New Orleans (26-16)
2/25 Los Angeles Lakers (31-12)
That, my friends, is pretty formidable. Those teams combine for a .517 winning percentage even with the dead-weights of Cleveland, Toronto, Milwaukee and Minnesota dragging the schedule down. The good news seems to be the All Star Break, which will give the Clippers time to rest at home for a few days.
If you’re looking at the schedule you can see the positives in the set up: hard-easy-hard and think that the Clippers energy will be up and they’ll be able to win some of those tough games before they tire and play the easier ones. Or you can see the negatives and think that the Clippers could still play very well at the beginning and lose, then when they are tired, they can lose to (slightly) inferior opponents before getting losing morale and being beat up again.
Regardless, they’ll need to go 6-5, or more likely 7-4 to maintain their momentum. That’ll take at least two big wins even if they sweep the lesser teams (Min, Mil, Cle, Tor), bringing the hypothetical wins record to 12-7. If they do that, which is a feat in itself, the Clippers will then have to close out the season on a 17-6 run, which includes another, if much easier, six game road trip in March and a 4 game road trip right before season’s end.
The second road trip follows three of four at home, v. Boston, @Sacramento, v. Houston and Denver. Denver could be Carmelo-less at that point, but that’s doesn’t guarantee the Clips go 3-1 or even 2-2. But say they do go 3-1, add the Celtics to their list of giant killing, maybe let down against Sacramento before beating Houston and Denver. Then they are 15-8 in our hypothetical joy ride.
Then the second road trip:
3/11 New Jersey
That group of games appears demonstrably easier, and they could go 5-1, with the obvious loss being the game against the Celtics in Boston. That would be more than tough. So that would bring up the hypothetical record to 20-9 (they would be over .500 for the season), needing 9-4 down the home stretch.
The Clippers will need to win as soon as they come home (v. Philly, v. Cleveland, v. Phoenix, v. Washington), because in the last 9 games they have 5 against the Lakers, Thunder and Mavericks, with three of those battles on the road, 2 a part of a last 4 game road trip before the season finale versus the Grizzlies.
What I like about this team, is that these goals don’t seem like complete pipe dreams, but I don’t think this is feasible for this iteration of the Clippers. Even going .500 the rest of the season would be remarkable considering their disgusting 3-12 record on the road. However, I never expected to see this much out of Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon or even Baron Davis, so it begins to conjure up thoughts on re-assessing the potential of the team. Can they make the playoffs? Even if it’s a long shot they have a chance, although I can’t get believe they’ll exceed expectations to that extent.
Not yet at least.