The Los Angeles Clippers lost their last home game before a seven-game road trip to the Chicago Bulls 105-89, and it was fair to wonder if the team was going to be maddeningly inconsistent all season long. It was too damn early in the year to be looking ragged and worn out.
When the Clippers left for the recent road trip, their record stood at 5-4. A successful away slate is usually set at .500, and with only four 2014 playoff teams on the schedule, the panic would have been overwhelming if the Clippers came back to SoCal at 8-8. But things changed.
After a 112-96 win at Utah, the Clippers ended their seven-game road trip with six wins, improving to 11-5 overall. That’s the same record the Clippers started with last season, when they would win a franchise-record 57 games en route to a division title. Los Angeles won a back-to-back in Florida (beating the Magic by 24, then the Heat by 17), lost by 16 in Memphis (the league’s best team through one month), then beat Charlotte, Detroit, Houston and Utah by an average of 15 points.
So what is there to take away from this road trip?
For starters, this was the 43rd road trip in franchise history of at least six games (going back to the Buffalo Braves in 1970). This 6-1 road trip was the first time in franchise history that the Clippers won at least six games on a road trip.
The Clippers have been quite good on long trips in recent years: the Clippers have a winning record on four of the last six road trips of at least six games. They once went 18 straight road trips lasting at least six games without a winning record, from 1990 to 2005, so there are some fans who can appreciate such an accomplished voyage.
That 6-1 mark will then bring in the detractors. If you want to minimize the fact that the Clippers won six of seven road games, you would start by pointing out the weak schedule. The Clippers’ seven opponents on the road trip have a record of 56-65 (.463), or the equivalent of beating the 7-8 New Orleans Pelicans six out of seven times at Smoothie King Center. Not only that, but the Clippers didn’t have to face Dwyane Wade, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Brandon Jennings, or Dwight Howard.
Of course, teams shouldn’t be given more credit for having important players out—you play to win the game with who you have. And the Clippers don’t have to apologize for coming into games with a mostly full deck and handling their business accordingly.
There is the one game, though, that the detractors can zero in on. The Clippers were mauled by Memphis and Marc Gasol in a game where the Clippers were out-rebounded 52-32. Gasol had 30 points and 12 rebounds, while Blake Griffin (5-for-17 field goals, 12 points) and DeAndre Jordan combined to grab seven boards. It was Griffin’s worst game of the trip and of the season, and the fact that it came in Memphis makes it harder to dismiss.
But overall, the Clippers showed some good signs on the road. For the season, the offense is back up to third in points per possession, while the defensive efficiency over the last seven games ranks eighth, per NBA Stats. The Clippers still foul too much (RE: Matt Barnes), but the team allowed only 28.4 percent made threes on the road trip, highlighted by allowing Charlotte to make only two of 20 attempts from long range.
And while the Clippers are the worst offensive rebounding team in the league, they got lights out shooting from deep on the road from several players. Chris Paul. J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford, Jordan Farmar, and Hedo Turkoglu all shot at least 40 percent from three while averaging at least 1.0 made threes per game on this road trip. The only player missing threes was Spencer Hawes, who was about as effective as Byron Mullens over the last two weeks. The Clippers need Griffin to get back to the free throw line to balance things out, but Griffin and Paul were outstanding for most of the trip as well.
The Clippers have one more of these long trips coming: the Grammy trip of late-January to early-February, lasting eight games. A mark of a good team is winning at least half of the road games, and Clippers head coach Doc Rivers saw last year’s Clippers team go 23-18 on the road while starting 7-2 this year. This franchise-best road trip is a solid building block. Now, let’s see if they bring some of that solid play home.