As promised, let's take a closer look at the details of the Los Angeles Clippers 2013-14 schedule. Let's start by making the observation that the league clearly likes them some Clippers. This isn't really news of course -- one of the top offenses in the league for the past two seasons, they only figure to be better this year with J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley on the wings and Doc Rivers on the sidelines.
Arguably the two biggest TV days of the season are opening day and Christmas Day. The Clippers are one of four NBA teams (along with the Lakers, Heat and Bulls) who appear on both of those days. Measured by national TV games (and I'm omitting NBA-TV which is in a different category in my opinion, so I'm just counting ABC/ESPN/TNT games as Steve LePore did for all the teams here), the Clippers are one of seven teams with 20 or more appearances. Appearances on those networks are capped at 25, with the Lakers, Bulls, Heat and Knicks are getting the full complement. The Clippers will be make 21 appearances (10 on TNT, 9 on ESPN and 2 on ABC).
The networks seem also to be promoting certain rivalries for the Clippers. The Lakers of course -- all four games in the Hallway Series are on one of the major nets. Likewise, all four meetings with the Thunder are on national TV, and both games against the defending champion Heat. But we will also see the Clippers versus the Warriors play three of their four meetings on National TV -- including the Clippers home opener during the important Kia NBA Tip-Off week and the nightcap of the Christmas Day schedule. The networks like those high scoring games, and the Clippers and Warriors figure to put up plenty of points. On the other hand, everyone is over the Clippers and Grizzlies -- none of their meetings made the TV schedule.
It's interesting that Dwight Howard's departure and Kobe Bryant's injury made no difference in the Lakers' TV schedule, as they're still maxed out on appearances. The legendary Boston Celtics on the other hand have been reduced to a mere three ESPN games this season. Yes, the house-cleaning in Boston was more thorough and the Celtics figure to be very bad, but it tells you something about the lure of the Lakers that they remain the most important Western Conference team to the networks.
Let's break down the Clippers season by month and see what we have. As you'll recall, last season we looked at the December schedule long before the game were played and anticipated a good month. No one knew it would end with a perfect 16-0 month as part of a record 17 game winning streak, but it was obvious just from the way the schedule was laid out that it could be a very good run for the Clips. It's worth noting that in some ways that may have worked against the Clippers -- fueling cries of "overrated" down the stretch when the schedule toughened up as it had to. The Clippers got on the radar with the streak, but crashed back to earth afterwards, while in fact they were very much the same team, just playing different levels of competition as dictated by the NBA schedule makers. There's not really the same kind of super-soft stretch this year, but the good news is that one of the easiest stretches comes right at the close of the season, which could create some buzz and momentum heading into the playoffs, which is more useful than December buzz.
A few basic schedule rules to bear in mind:
Home and Road games eventually balance out of course at 41 apiece. The home court advantage in the NBA is real and significant (last season the Clippers won .780 of their games at home and .585 of their games on the road) so a month that is skewed towards
home road games figures to be difficult, but a home heavy month figures to be easier.
Of the 29 potential opponents, 15 made the playoffs last year while 14 did not. Obviously things change, with the best example being the Celtics and Bucks who each made the playoffs last season but who figure to be terrible this year. But given that every team is 0-0 right now, there's no perfect way to measure opponent strength, so we'll use playoff/lottery as a proxy. Overall this should be more or less equal -- on the season, the Clippers play 42 games against 2013 playoff opponents, 40 against non-playoff opponents.
The East, despite some expected improvement at the top in Chicago, Indiana and Brooklyn, remains by far the weaker conference overall. Most of the truly dreadful teams will be in the East, with only Phoenix in a relatively hopeless state in the West. Overall, Western conference teams play 52 of their 82 games against the tougher West, but a month with a lot of games against East teams could be a good month for the Clippers. Note that this can soften the sting of long road trips -- the Clippers' seven game roadie in January is an entirely Eastern Conference affair, which balances out the very difficult travel aspects of the trip.
Oct. 29 -- @LAL -- Opening Day against the hated Lakers
Oct. 31 -- GSW -- Home opener against the Steph, Iggy and the Warriors.
Nov. 4 -- HOU -- First look at the Harden/Howard Rockets.
Nov. 7 -- @MIA -- Schedule loss -- TNT game on second day of B2B against the champs.
Nov. 9 -- @HOU -- A rematch with the Rockets.
Nov. 13 -- OKC -- First chance to see how we stack up against the Thunder.
Nov. 18 -- MEM -- A chance to get some revenge for the playoffs.
Nov. 21 -- @OKC -- The Thunder twice in nine days -- could tell us a lot.
Nov. 24 -- CHI -- The return of Derrick Rose.
The Clippers will have a tough opening month or so with 12 of the first 17 against the West and 11 against playoff teams. Not just any playoff teams either: nine of the first 16 games come against the likes of the Heat, Thunder, Grizzlies, Rockets, Bulls, Warriors and Knicks, so we should know pretty early in the season just how good the Clippers can be. But a 9-7 start (or worse) is a distinct possibility, which could lead to some finger-pointing (and would certainly have Charles Barkley talking, though luckily most people won't be able to understand him).
Dec. 5 -- @MEM -- A trip back to Beale Street, this looks like a schedule loss on the second night of a B2B.
Dec. 11 -- @BOS -- Doc Rivers' return to Boston, where he'll probably be booed -- and he won't recognize his old team.
Dec. 12 -- @BRK -- Oh, there they are. Doc's reunion with Pierce and Garnett (oh and Jason Terry).
Dec. 16 -- SAS -- The first of three meetings with the ageless Spurs.
Dec. 21 -- DEN -- The Nuggets lost their coach and Iggy, but they're always tough.
Dec. 25 -- @GSW -- Christmas night in Oakland against the Dubs on ESPN. Think they'll be pumped?
The Clippers first long road trip of the season comes in early December, seven games from the 4th through the 14th. As seven game road trips go, it's not so bad. Philly and Boston figure to be easy wins -- Atlanta, Cleveland and Washington are all mystery teams right now, could be good, could be bad. Games in Memphis and Brooklyn look very tough -- partly because they are both on the second night of back to backs. Thanks for that, NBA. Overall the December schedule is a little road heavy and a little East heavy -- which balances out. If the Clippers go 16-0 this December, it will definitely be news.
Jan. 4 -- @SAS -- The Clippers broke their losing streak in AT&T Center a couple games back, but still...
Jan. 8 -- BOS -- Not really a key game, just a formerly important team that now sucks.
Jan. 10 -- LAL -- See above.
Jan. 17 -- @NYK -- I don't know if the Knicks are going to be good or not, but ESPN game in MSG qualifies as key.
Jan. 18 -- @IND -- The Pacers could be the second best team in the East.
Jan. 24 -- @CHI -- Or the Bulls could be the second best team in the East.
The Grammies are in January this year, which means the Grammy Trip is in January, another seven-gamer at the end of the month, from the 17th to the 27th. It'll be long and it'll be cold, with late January stops in Detroit, Chicago, Toronto and Milwaukee. Brrrr. It's an all East trip, with three cushy opponents (TOR, MIL and CHA), three tough opponents (NYK, IND and CHI) and one mystery guest (who knows how Detroit will be this year?)
One thing I'll say for the Clippers B2Bs this year -- they don't have as many as usual, but the road opponents on the second night to this point are brutal -- add the Pacers to the likes of the Grizzlies and the Heat and the Nets as another schedule loss.
January also features a scheduling anomaly -- the Clippers have four full days off between games on Jan. 10 against the Lakers and Jan. 15 against the Mavericks. We'll use that time to discuss the NFL I guess.
January is by far the Clippers most road-heavy month -- but also the most East heavy, which again balances out. By the end of January the Clippers will have played five more road games than home games, which means the final stretch will feature five more home games, a good thing.
Feb. 5 -- MIA -- LeBron and the Heat have never beaten the Clippers at STAPLES Center.
Feb. 18 -- SAS -- Last meeting of the season against the Spurs.
Feb. 21 -- @MEM -- This one could determine the season series with the Grizzlies.
Feb. 23 -- @OKC -- Spurs, Grizz, Thunder are the first three games after the All Star Break -- wow.
Feb. 26 -- HOU -- Harden and Howard again; we'll know by this game how tough they are.
Usually we never see the Clippers in LA in February, but with a different Grammy schedule, it's the opposite this year. From the start of February until the 18th, the team has one game in Denver and the All Star Game, but other than that they are in town enjoying the mild weather.
The team had better get their rest during the All Star Break -- they face the Spurs, Grizzlies, Thunder and Rockets among their first five games after the break. Maybe Paul and Griffin should beg off to rest up.
Mar. 6 -- @LAL
Mar. 12 -- GSW
Mar. 17 -- @DEN
Mar. 29 -- @HOU
If the Clippers have a chance to feast on a stretch of schedule, it's the close of the season, the 22 games of March and April. If you believe that the Heat, Spurs, Thunder, Bulls, Nets, Grizzlies and Pacers are among the toughest opponents in the league, well guess what? The Clippers only play one game against those guys among their final 22. Sure, Houston could be really good and yes, the Warriors are always a challenge, but basically, there's a LOT of very winnable games in the final month and a half. If the Clippers are healthy and confident, they could easily enter the post season as the hottest team in the NBA.
Apr. 6 -- LAL -- Hopefully the Clippers will be trying to sweep the Lakers again.
Apr. 9 -- OKC -- By far the toughest game of the final stretch.
April is where it really gets cushy. There are only two road games, and they come against the dreadful Suns and in the final game of the season in Portland. The Blazers could be improved, but they figure to be out of the playoff race and not playing for anything on April 16. If the Clippers can beat the Thunder, they really should run the table in April.