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How Bad Have the Clippers Been this Season?

We can become enured to all the losing in a season such as this, especially in the midst of 12 games without a victory.  But exactly how bad have the Clippers been this season?  Well, pretty much no matter how you slice it, they've been bad.  Really, really bad.

The team's offense has been horrendous.  They are dead last in the league in two of the most significant offensive categories - offensive efficiency (they are the only team in the league averaging fewer than 100 points in 100 possessions), and effective field goal percentage.  They are 29th in field goal percentage, and 29th in points per game.  They are, simply put, the worst offensive team in the NBA, and that is saying quite a lot.

With one more loss, they will equal the longest losing streak of the Mike Dunleavy era.  It should be noted that Clipper coaches rarely keep the job long enough to have their tenure termed an era, so he's got that going for him.  Compare for instance the Dunleavy Era to the Ford Interlude, the Weiss Episode, and the Todd Coffee Break.  Given the current state of the team, and the way the Milwaukee Bucks dismantled them 3 weeks ago to kick off this losing streak, it's likely that this team is going to equal that baker's dozen streak from the final month of MDsr's first season on the job, in April 2004. 

You don't have to go too much further back to find the next longest losing streak.  The Clippers lost 17 straight in the lockout season of 1999 and also in 1999-2000.  Fortunately for Dunleavy, the team has a couple of great chances to get a win before the current streak reaches that level - the Wolves are coming to town on Monday, and the Thunder are going to be here next Friday.  Of course, both of those teams are playing better than the Clippers right now, so it's far from a lock that the streak will end next week.  But there's a chance.

Now, a card-carrying member of Club Optimism would point out that this is all irrelevant since the Clippers have been decimated by injuries this season.  And it's certainly true that injuries have once again played a major part in this tragedy (or is it a farce).  If you view the post-Randolph trade as the full strength roster, the Clippers have not played a complete game with everyone healthy this season - not one.  Moreover, the injuries have come in bunches lately.  For the last 10 losses of the current streak they were missing at least 4 key players, and for the last 7 they've been missing the three players the team is supposedly built around.  It's not easy to win games in that situation.

In fact, Club Optimism requires you to be aware of this stat:  the Clippers are 6-6 in the 12 games where Zach Randolph started and finished.  And none of those featured Chris Kaman.  So .500 basketball while still dealing with a key injury (not to mention while still learning to play together) is a good thing, and encourages one to think that the team can be quite good when fully healthy (if that were to ever happen).  But turn that Randolph stat over on it's head for a moment.  WITHOUT Zach Randolph, the 2008-2009 LA Clippers are 2-24.

2-24! 

Two wins in 26 games - that's a single digit winning percentage citizens (below 8, to be exact).  That works out to 6 wins over the course of an 82 game season.  Bear in mind that the NBA record for futility is 9 wins.  2-24 is historically, colossally, monumentally bad.

And lest you dismiss the situation completely based on injuries, please bear in mind that Baron Davis played in 18 of those game.  And Marcus Camby played in more than that.  Even Chris Kaman played in 15 of them.  In fact, the Clippers played a dozen games with all three of these supposed difference-makers together before the Randolph trade and went 2-10.  So, I'll grant that having two significant players out of a game is a tough row to hoe (although it didn't keep the Spurs from beating the Clippers without Ginobili and Parker, but I digress).  The Clippers are winless this season when two or more of their four most significant players (Randolph, Baron, Damby and Kaman) have been out - I have them at 0-14 in such games, including the last 11 straight.  Yes, those were all unlikely games for the team to expect to win; but winless in 14 tries?  That's embarrassing.  And 2 and 10 in the dozen games with only one guy missing is even worse.

The maddening thing about the current streak is that the Clippers seem to play well in the games where they have the least chance of winning - Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix - even San Antonio for a time.  The net effect is that one can be encouraged at how 'well' they're playing (everything being relative, of course) even as they descend towards 'worst record in the NBA' status (WAS and OKC both have 7 wins now - watch out).  It is sometimes said of good teams that they play down to their competition - that they play just well enough to win.  For the Clippers, they play just well enough to lose.  If it's a good team, they can really give full effort, comfortable in the knowledge that a last minute loss is the best possible outcome.  Against a bad team, they have to stink from the opening tip to make sure to get the L. 

There are of course other excuses for the miserable record beyond games missed to injury.  After all, Baron was playing with a torn ligament in his hand, and the injury that has him out of the lineup currenlty was actually suffered in the second game of the season - so he likely hasn't been 100% this season (and possibly not close, but who knows).  And the 'healthy' games for the team (again, a relative term) all came at the beginning of the season, so there were issues of cohesion stemming from the roster turnover and the training camp injuries.  As we know, there are plenty of excuses.

Just remember when you're making those excuses, that they have to account for a lot of losing.  I'm not sure they do.