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Dissecting The Clippers' 2010-2011 Schedule

The Clippers have 22 back-to-backs and eleven straight on the road in February. But a home-friendly start to the season could help them build confidence and stay relevant.

There's not a lot to talk about in the NBA in August.  Sure, this year we've got the World Championships in Turkey, but that's still more than two weeks away.  After the free agents have signed and the NBA summer league is over, it's just a whole lot of nothing.  And for those of us who don't know a Dodger from an Angel, we're just dying for some basketball news.

Which is probably why the NBA releases the season schedule the second week in August.  Let's face it, the schedule is pretty much the schedule.  Every team plays every other team.  You play the teams in the other conference twice, home and away.  You play all the teams in your Division four times each.  Of the other ten teams in your Conference, you play six of them four times and four of the them three times.  So that pretty much accounts for all of the variability in the schedule right there - which four teams do you play three times instead of four.  Big whoop.

And yet, we can find so many things to talk about when the schedule is released.  Who's on TV the most?  (As if we didn't know it would be the Heat, Lakers and Celtics.)  Who's playing on Christmas Day?  (As if we didn't know it was the Lakers and the Heat.)  When does LeBron return to Cleveland?  (December 2nd.) 

So this is one of those obsessive compulsive posts picking apart the Clippers 2010-2011 schedule.  Before we get started, let me be perfectly clear:  all Western Conference teams play more or less the same schedule.  The schedule will neither make nor break the Clippers this season.  In the end, they have to win games against the same competition as everyone else.  So there's not really a lot of point in dissecting the schedule.  But what else are we going to do in August?


One of the variables in the NBA schedule is the dreaded back-to-back.  The Clippers tend to play a lot of them, and this season is no different.  Here's a list of the total number of B2B's for each team compiled by Bradford Doolittle of Basketball Prospectus.

1. CHI 23
2. MIL 23
3. CHA 22
4. CLE 22
5. LAC 22
6. NJN 22
7. PHI 22
8. POR 22
9. DET 21
10. HOU 21
11. IND 21
12. MEM 21
13. NY 21
14. WAS 21
15. DAL 20
16. ORL 20
17. BOS 19
18. DEN 19
19. MIA 19
20. MIN 19
21. TOR 19
22. UTA 19
23. GSW 18
24. NO 18
25. SAC 18
26. SAS 18
27. ATL 17
28. OKC 17
29. PHX 16
30. LAL 15

As you can see, the Clippers have 22 B2Bs this season.  Only the Bulls and the Bucks, with 23 each, have more.  When you're the third tenant in your home arena, these things happen.  By the way, note that the Lakers have the fewest B2Bs in the league.  So there is an advantage to being the first tenant in the building, over and above the lovely purple seats.

Unbalanced Schedule

As I mentioned above, there are four conference opponents for each team that they play only three times instead of four.  For the Clippers this season, those four are the San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Hornets, Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers.  There's little question that the Clippers caught a break here.  Three of those four made the playoffs last season, and even the Hornets, who missed the postseason, figure to bounce back with a healthy Chris Paul (and now Trevor Ariza).  Not to mention that the Spurs, Jazz and Hornets have absolutely owned the Clippers for years.  It's also nice that the Clippers only have one road game each in San Antonio and Salt Lake City this year, as those are two cities where the team essentially never wins.

Road Trips

The Clippers only have one road trip all season longer than five games... but it's a doozy.  Basically, if you're a season ticket holder, you better have your GPS ready in March, because by the end of February you may have forgotten how to get to Staples Center.  The Clippers play a home game on February 2nd, and then don't play another home game until February 26th (though they do have an away game against the Lakers at Staples on the 25th).  They play eleven consecutive road games during that stretch, though technically it's an eight game trip followed by a three game trip, with the All Star Break in between.  All told, the Clippers play two home games and twelve road games during the month of February.  Brutal.  (Especially when you consider the February weather in LA versus, say, New York, Cleveland, Toronto, Milwaukee or Minneapolis, all part of the trip.)

(In case you're wondering why the Clippers are banished from their home arena for so long, blame the Grammy's.  The preparation for the show and the show itself on the13th take over the arena every February.  This year it's compounded by the NBA All Star game in LA.  When the Grammy's leave, the NBA moves in.  The Lakers too are on the road for most of the month.)

The Silver Lining

I keep coming back to the fact that the NBA schedule is essentially the same for every team, and it eventually balances out.  The Clippers' terrible February means that they have a home friendly schedule leading up to that point.  Indeed, of their first 48 games, 29 of them are at home.  This could end up being very significant.

Perhaps no team in the NBA has had a more fragile psyche than the Clippers.  Under Mike Dunleavy Sr. the team seemed to always be looking for a reason to fold.  And aside from the playoff run of 2006, that reason always seemed to present itself, usually in the form of injuries.  There's no denying that the Clippers have been beset by injuries in recent seasons (and really, throughout franchise history).  But it's equally true that the team has usually responded poorly.  Some teams manage to play well despite injuries.  The Dunleavy Clippers were not such a team.

Much has been made of the 'evacuation' game in Memphis last season, and never has a season more clearly turned at such a specific moment, from 18-19 and 11 points ahead, to a loss in that game and an 11-33 record the rest of the way.  But it was the Clippers losing their drive (due to the announcement later that night that Blake Griffin was out for the season), not the pipes in the FedEx Forum, that caused the team to go under water.  It doesn't help that team leader Baron Davis tends to wear his emotions (and his enthusiasm or lack thereof) on his sleeve more than most NBA players.

With a home friendly schedule through the first 48 games, the Clippers have a good chance to remain at or above .500 and in the playoff race through the All Star Break.  A good start could help build confidence (something that this group has never really had much of), and who knows what could happen at that point.  So while February is going to be painful, the three months prior could give the team a chance to gel and build some chemistry without dropping off the pace immediately.  Eric Gordon has no idea what it means to play meaningful NBA games in February and March and April.  Is this the year he finds out?

The Start

Of course, the team could dig itself a hole long before they've played 48 games, and the first two weeks of the season are pretty tough.  Of the first nine opponents, seven of them won 50 games or more last season, and the Clippers don't play a home game against a non-playoff team until November 12th, when Detroit comes to town ten games into the season.  If however they can weather the storm of those first nine games, they then have seven straight against non-playoff teams where they have a chance to get on a roll.  In short, it's entirely possible that the Clippers could have a winning record after 16 games.

The Coach

It also remains to be seen how new head coach Vinny Del Negro (VDN for short) will handle the team.  For all of his criticism in Chicago, he certainly never lost those teams.  The Bulls would slump horribly, to the point where everyone left them for dead in the playoff race.  But VDN had them playing hard again down the stretch, and for two consecutive seasons Chicago stormed back into the playoffs at the last moment.  That's very different from the experience of the Clippers the last several seasons, and it will be interesting to see if VDN can keep LA playing hard through the entirety of the 82 game season.