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A Very Tough Stretch

The Clippers have just concluded a stretch of eight consecutive games against teams below .500 (as hard as that is to believe).  Of course there's no such thing as a free lunch, and now they're going to pay for that soft patch with a stretch of 12 games against the best of the best (with Minnesota stuck right in the middle, like the creme filling in a Twinkie).  In the 8 just completed, extended periods of offensive futility led to losses in winnable games against Indiana, Milwaukee, Seattle, Miami and Charlotte.  Even the Generic Clippers had to be hoping for something along the lines of 6-2 against 8 opponents with a combined .369 winning percentage.  Instead they went 3-5.

By contrast, they are now staring down the barrel of 6 straight against playoff teams, a brief respite against the T-Wolves, and then 6 more against playoff teams.  The opponents in those 12 games carry a cumulative winning percentage of .667.  They face 6 of the top 8 Western Conference teams, and 2 of the top 4 Eastern Conference teams.  They face Dallas and San Antonio twice each.  They face Phoenix three times in less than three weeks!  (The NBA schedule is a random thing, but the fact that the Clippers play all four of their games against the Suns in the first half of the season, i.e. with no hope of having Brand, is unfortunate in the extreme.)  That most of the games are at home is little consolation - the Clippers actually have a worse record at home (4-7) than on the road (5-6) right now, and they've lost 5 straight in Staples.  Not to mention that they have little chance of beating the likes of San Antonio, Dallas and Phoenix without Elton Brand regardless of the venue.  If the new year's home stand were happening a month or two later, they might have a chance to win some of those games.  

The first week of November seems like a distant memory now.  The team is so beset by injuries that I've stopped thinking the 'Just wait until they get healthy again' thoughts.  You can only stay in that mode for so long.  The prognosis on Sam Cassell seems to be that he will be out for 2 or 3 more games - except that's been the prognosis since he was first injured, for 9 games now.  So it's just a rolling 2 or 3 games evidently.  I'd love to see the Generic Clippers play again with a fully healthy Mobley and any form of Cassell - but it may be 2008 before that happens.  Hell, we may see Brand and Livingston healthy before we see Mobley and Cassell healthy.

As a practical matter, if Cassell can't be ready for Toronto on Tuesday (and Jasen Powell is saying he can't) then he might as well wait until after Christmas.  It's so unlikely that the Generic Clippers could win at Dallas (12/21) or at San Antonio (12/22) that he might as well take the extra 6 days off.

It's not unusual for weaker teams to win games on their home floor based on energized play and home crowd support.  But there has been little or no home court advantage for the Clippers this season.  The strange thing is that the Clippers won 25, 27 and 27 games in Staples in the last 3 seasons, so they have enjoyed home cooking in the recent past.  They need to find that home mojo, and quick, or this season will be over before Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year.