Despite their first road victory last night, the Clippers still have the league's worst road record. And despite a 9-8 overall record, they have one more home loss (2) than road win (1), which gives them a losing record on that normalized scale.
Nonetheless Clipper Nation, it may not be as bad as it seems. The combined record of their 17 opponents this season is 197-170. The combined record of the first 7 road opponents (when they were 0-7) is a blistering 84-58, .592. Only one of the first 7 opponents currently has a losing record, and that is 8-10 Sacramento, where the Clippers have not won since the Clinton Administration. The other 6 road losses came to teams that would make the Western Conference playoffs if the season ended today. They have yet to play an Eastern Conference road game - and although the travel is harder, the opponents are decidedly easier in the East.
It actually gets tougher before it gets easier. After the game at Portland this Friday (second worst record in the West), the Clippers play their next three road games at Dallas (14-6), at Houston (14-6) and at Utah (15-5). So if current form holds, we're looking at 2-10 on the road at year end. To reach their goal of having a winning road record for the first time in franchise history, they would need to win 19 out of 29 road games in 2007.
But the schedule has to even out eventually. All 15 Eastern foes happen to fall into 2007 on the schedule. Likewise, if the combined winning percentage of road opponents thus far is significantly over .500, then the remaining opponents would necessarily be significantly below .500 (although the fact that the East is weaker, and Western teams play fewer games against the East, throws the math off some).
Here's the bad news. If the Clippers expect to be an elite team, or even a Western Conference playoff team, where seven teams are currently playing at an elite level, they have to beat the middle class teams on the road. Maybe you can excuse losses at Utah and at San Antonio, etc. But losses at Minnesota and at Sacramento - those really hurt. These are the teams the Clippers are going to have to beat to secure a playoff spot.
The team has not played well to this point. I'm not pretending they have. But, the schedule has been undeniably brutal, and they've only lost one game they absolutely should have won (Seattle), and three more that they probably should have won (Minnesota, Sacramento and home against the Lakers). (I'm not talking about the specific games here - I'm talking about looking at the schedule in a vacuum.)
If they can play well and steal some games they're not supposed to win, then they'd be right back on track for a decent playoff seed. If they can really find themselves, and start playing great ball, the schedule is such that they could have a great record in 2007. If we're going to be a good team, that goes through some mediocre stretches, I'd rather those stretches be at the beginning of the season than at the end.