With only 75 games left, the Clippers trail the Sacramento Kings for the eighth and final playoff spot by two full games. The Kings magic number to finish ahead of the Clippers is 74 - any combination of King wins and Clipper losses totaling 74 assures that the Kings will finish ahead of the Clippers in the standings.
So hopefully I've made my point. The NBA season is very, very long. And although it's no fun beginning the season 0-6, it certainly doesn't eliminate a team from playoff contention. The 20 point margins, the missing all stars on the opposing rosters - none of that actually figures into the equation.
The real question is, does the team have a reason to believe that it will perform better? Is there reason to suspect that 0-6 is not a true indication of the team's caliber? In this case, I'd have to say that the answer is yes, there's ample reason. The schedule (facing seven straight teams teams with 50 wins a season ago) has been brutal. Several significant pieces missed time in both the pre-season and the first two weeks. That would be an issue for any team, but it's a particular problem for the Clippers as they try to figure out how to integrate nine new players. Still, all of this would be just a bunch of excuses if there wasn't some evidence that the situation was improving. But as key players have gotten healthy, and as the team has played together, the on-court performance has steadily improved, leading to their first win against Dallas on Sunday.
The schedule piece is particularly salient. It's true that Denver was missing Carmelo, Utah was missing Deron Williams, and most of the games were in Staples Center; so you certainly have to characterize those losses as missed opportunities at least (barely missed in the case of the Denver game). BUT, missing players notwithstanding, the NBA schedule eventually evens out, and two games against the Lakers in the first week leaves only two more for the remaining five months. Would you feel better with Sacramento's results so far - 3-4, with home wins over Memphis, Minnesota and Golden State?
Any case for optimism, however, certainly requires the Clippers to take care of the next few opponents. With the exception of Denver, they have not in fact lost to anybody that they had much hope of passing in the Western Conference standings this season. (Likewise, that makes the Dallas win sweeter.) But rebuliding Sacramento sans their best player, Golden State missing three key players, San Antonio without two all pros, worst team in the league Oklahoma City... these are all games you pretty much have to win. So let's see how they do in the next four.
If they can string together five straight wins (and let's face it, they should, although Popovich and San Antonio always seem to beat the Clippers no matter who they put on the floor), then they still won't have proven anything. They will have lost a bunch of games they were supposed to lose, and won a bunch they were supposed to win.
If they don't win these upcoming games, I'll be much more worried than I am now.
Because then, there will only be 71 games left.