If the NBA plays a full schedule this season, we now know what it will look like. Of course, with a lockout almost three full weeks old, with nary a word spoken between the two factions during that time, this schedule may end up being as relevant as the 1975-76 Baltimore Claws.
Still, that same lockout has made it so there's no real basketball news to speak of (just think, a year ago at this time I had just finished the summer basketball orgy of the Vegas Summer League), so of course everyone is going to spend time dissecting schedules that (a) are pretty much all the same anyway and (b) could very well be completely irrelevant. Oh well. Here goes.
If everyone comes to their senses and we get a new CBA and the season starts on time, then the Clippers will open on Wednesday November 2nd at home against the Memphis Grizzlies (the team they closed last season against). Two days later they face Portland on National TV, also at home.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Clippers schedule without a massive road trip in February and a lot of back to backs. Now, before we get the conspiracy theories churning at full boil, remember that there's a reason this always happens. Staples Center is the only arena in the land with three major sport tenants, and it's a very busy venue even outside of hoops and pucks. The Grammy's take over the building every year at the start of February, and all three teams hit the road for an extended trip. That's just how it is.
But the Clippers also have the misfortune of being third in the pecking order for home dates after the Lakers and the NHL Kings. They're just a tenant in the building, not the owners, and the relatively affordable rent helps keep Donald Sterling in the black (one of the very few profitable owners, as we're finding out), but it comes at a price. Getting third choice on home dates invariably makes the Clippers February trip a bit longer (this year it's eight games, compared with six for the Lakers).
Third choice on dates also keeps the Clippers among the league leaders year in and year out in a most undesirable stat - back to back games. This year the Clippers have 22 back to backs (compared to
15 17 for the Lakers, for instance). I haven't been through the full schedule yet to see where that stands league-wide, but usually that's close to the maximum that any team gets.
But if those two things are familiar about the schedule, there's something else that's decidedly different. Call it the Blake Effect, but the Clippers are on National TV quite a bit more this season than we're used to. Including games on NBA-TV, they have 20 nationally broadcast games on the horizon. If you look just at the 'power' broadcasts (those on ESPN, TNT and ABC), the Clippers still do pretty well with 13, twelfth most in the league. Considering that the mighty Spurs are only on those networks 14 times, and that only seven teams have more than 14 appearances, that's some pretty solid coverage of LA's 'other' team. Obviously, Blake Griffin has made the team 'must see TV'.
Bearing in mind that one of the only variables in the schedule is the teams from your own conference that you play three times instead of four times, the Clippers came out OK on that front. They miss one game each against Memphis, Denver, Dallas, Minnesota. So it's nice not to have to play the defending champs that extra time, but by the same token they also miss out on playing the worst team in the conference one more time. Still, three playoff teams among the four is not bad. Of course, there are always a few quirks in a team's schedule, and the one that jumped out at me in this one is that the Clippers don't play the Wolves for the first time until the end of February - and I mean the VERY end of February, the 29th.
Perhaps most importantly on this schedule, while the Clippers opened against a brutal early season slate last year (and limped to a 1-13 start partly as a result), the first month or so is a bit easier this time around. It's still a schedule loaded with playoff teams - 11 of the 16 November dates are against teams that made the playoffs last season - but those five non-playoff teams are more respite than they had last season, and the eleven don't look nearly as tough. The big difference is that there are many more eastern conference teams, so while Philadelphia and Indiana are technically playoff teams, these are nonetheless teams the Clippers need to beat, especially playing at home. Speaking of which, the opening month is pretty home friendly - 11 of the team's first 18 games are at Staples (and none of those are against the Lakers). The team could easily be above .500 in that early stretch, which would help the youngsters to build confidence. If the 1-13 start last season ended the season before it began, a 10-8 start, even aided by a home-friendly slate, could do a lot to build positive momentum.
Of course things always balance out, and the Clippers pay for that home friendly start with extensive time on the road in February and March. If they hope to be a playoff team, and actually make it through the first three months of the season in contention, February and March will be crucial, as they play 16 out of 20 games on the road starting February 1st. Ouch.
So there you have it. The Clippers 2011-2012 schedule. Now here's hoping that they actually play it.