Back on Jan 2, I posted that the Clippers had played half of their first 30 games against the best teams in the West. The good news at that point was that the January and February schedule looked significantly easier.
Well, January is over, and the team was 9-6 in the 15 games. Going back to the last 3 games of 2006, they have won 12 of their last 18 games, including a 4-4 road mark in January. These more closely approximate the winning percentages we were expecting: 8-2 at home and 4-4 on the road - that'll get you a 53 win season if you do it all year. But let's not kid ourselves.
The last 18 games have been against poor competition. Certainly the Clippers' 11-16 mark on Dec. 26 was driven by a slew of brutal games, but the schedule has pretty much evened out, and the team is only a single game over .500.
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So maybe things are not as bad as they were, but we're still performing below expectations (at least below my expectations).
Specifically, when they left on the 6 game trip at the beginning of January, the goal was to win 4 - they won a respectable 3.
For the 9 games just ended that Kevin called the 'get fat' stretch even before the season started, the goal was 7-2 - they went 6-3.
During January, in head-to-head matchups against their direct competition (Minnesota and Golden State), they split two games each. Excuse me while I yawn from not-impressed-y-ness.
Six wins in their last nine is OK, until you consider the 3 losses - home against Cleveland, at Golden State and home against Minnesota and badly outplayed in the fourth quarter of each. The last two wins have been among the more impressive of the year, probably tempting more than one of us to shout, 'FINALLY.' But I seem to recall a similar feeling after back-to-back home wins against Orlando and Miami. They lost 7 of the next 8.
So before we declare this corner turned, let's make another prediction, and see if the team can live up to expectations this time. Since they keep missing by 1, maybe I should set the bar a little higher - then, when they miss, they'll actually be achieving what I wanted in the first place. No, that's cheating.
For this 7 game trip, they need to go 4-3. There are two games that should be gimmes in Boston (12-33, losers of 13 straight) and Philadelphia (15-32), and a near-gimme in New York (20-28). They should be plenty motivated to pay back Toronto (23-23) to avoid the season-sweep. That leaves three teams on the trip with winning records: Indiana (a mere 24-21), Cleveland (26-19, another opportunity for redemption) and Detroit (26-18). 4 wins doesn't even require them to beat anyone with a winning record. Anything less than 4-3 would be disappointing.