When the NBA schedule was first released in August, we knew that the Clippers' first nine games were really, really difficult: all Western Conference teams (the West still being the tougher conference top to bottom by a significant margin), and seven of the nine coming off playoff appearances. However, only now, as the Clippers enter the easier part of their schedule, can we fully comprehend just how incredibly difficult a stretch it was.
As of this morning, there are nine teams in the Western Conference above .500, compared to only five in the East. Furthermore, of the ten teams in the NBA that are currently at least two games over .500, seven of them are in the West. So hypothesis one, that the West is still the stronger conference, is supported.
The Clippers have played all nine of their games so far against those nine Western Conference teams that are above .500. There are five teams in the West below .500 (six counting the Clippers themselves) and the Clippers have yet to play a single one of them. The only two teams that the Clippers have faced so far that didn't make the playoffs last season just happen to be the biggest surprises in the NBA - the 7-0 Hornets and the 6-3 Warriors. The schedule so far has been an almost one-to-one duplication of playing exclusively the best of the west. Substitute an extra San Antonio game (no picnic of course) for a meeting with the Lakers (the only winning team in the West the Clippers have yet to play), and those are the nine opponents to date.
The combined record of the Clippers opponents as of today is 50-20. That's shocking. You know, I didn't actually do the math, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that no other team has played against competition that has a combined 50 wins or is plus 30 in the win column this season.
By contrast, the Kings have played an almost completely opposite schedule. LAC and SAC do not have a single opponent in common; the Kings have played just one team with a winning record, losing to the Lakers. Sacramento sits at 3-4, and probably feels slightly better about themselves than the 1-8 Clippers. But why should they?
Or how about a slightly different comparison? How about looking at the results of the vaunted Miami Heat to this point of the season? The Heat are a disappointing 5-4 so far. (During the offseason, Jeff Van Gundy predicted that the Heat would not lose back to back games all season. He was almost right. They made it two full weeks before losing back to backs.) Of their five wins, four have come against the Sixers, Wolves and Nets (twice). Against teams with winning records, they are 1-4. They have the same number of wins against teams with winning records as the Clippers do.
The good news for the Clippers is that by getting so many tough games out of the way, it means they don't have as many left ahead of them. Specifically, they do not have to return to either Utah or San Antonio (where they never win) again this season. So that's a relief.
Of course, the schedule excuse only works right now, BEFORE the Clippers get into the soft part of their slate. And the fact that they are entering that portion with at least two starters hurt could end up being a devastating blow if they are unable to string together some wins in their shorthanded state.
But for now, suffice it to say that the Clippers early season schedule, which we always knew was difficult, turned out to be much more difficult than we ever imagined. Just what a young team with a bunch of new players and a new coach wants.