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The Clippers 2009-2010 Schedule

Let's start with the error correction.  I have no idea why the NBA schedule thinks the Clippers and Lakers open in Miami, but it's not true.  The Oct. 27 game is in Staples Center and the Lakers are the home team (and indeed it's fixed now).

Second order of business is national TV.  The first overall pick makes a bit of a difference there, as the Clippers are on TNT three times, ESPN five times and NBATV five times.  That's a significant improvement over last season.  Not only are they being featured more, they are actually appearing on some marquee days - like the season opener versus the Lakers and Christmas Day in snowy Phoenix.  The New Year's Eve game against the Sixers may look like a marquee date, but it's really not.  New Year's Eve is a terrible night to schedule a basketball game, which is why the Clippers always have a game then - it's not like the Lakers or Kings want that date.  It just happens to fall on a Thursday this year, which is TNT's exclusive NBA night, so it's sort of the Clippers on TV by default that night.  The fact that it's Philly for the second year in a row, and that Elton Brand missed last year's game so this will in fact be his first return to LA to face the Clippers, certainly gives Doug Collins something to talk about.

On to the schedule itself.  The NBA schedule is a pretty balanced thing.  Everyone plays 82 games, everyone plays 41 at home, and everyone plays everyone else.  At the end of the season, things even out, so there's not a ton of analysis you have to do.  It's the schedule, and it looks more or less like we knew it would, like it does every year.

Nonetheless there are some nuances to dissect for those of us who obsess about such things.  First of all, it is in fact not 100% balanced.  Every team plays the 15 teams from the other conference twice each, home and away, while playing the four teams in their own division four times each, two home and two away.  Of the ten teams in the other divisions of the same conference, you play six of them four times, and four of them three times.  Those four opponents represent a little sliver of variance in the overall balance.  This year the Clippers get Dallas, Houston, Denver and Oklahoma City three times each.  That would seem to be a good break - three playoff teams that they miss once on the schedule.  But Houston's injury situation makes them the one playoff team most likely to drop off. 

Another consideration is the dreaded back-to-back.  The Clippers have 22 back to backs on their schedule - more than a quarter of their games.  Eight of those are during road trips, where both games are on the road - including some pretty nasty travel days - Chicago to Atlanta at the beginning of February (traveling EAST, so there's only 23 hours between tips, YIKES), Milwaukee to Toronto at the end of March (another 23 hour job, ouch), and Charlotte to San Antonio February 12 and 13 (that's a LONG trip, but at least they're going West).  Those are some tough turnarounds. 

There are also a handful of the usual tough west coast turnarounds - Portland to LA, Salt Lake City to LA, Denver to LA.  One break is that two of their road-home back-to-backs come after playing 'at' the Lakers - so there's no travel on those.

But the most important factor of this year's schedule is probably the team's chances of starting off strong.  With a young team, not to mention a veteran like Baron Davis who plays with his heart on his sleeve perhaps more than any other player in the NBA, this Clipper team will no doubt be affected by their early success or failure more than most clubs.  Get off to a bad start, and the season will spiral downhill quickly.  Good off to a good start, and the enthusiasm will build on itself.  Last year's team, facing a murderer's row of early opponent's, got off to a horrible start and never even pretended to recover.

There's bad news and good news on the schedule from this standpoint.  The first four games are all against solid Western Conference opponents - four games in five nights no less.  So the schedule makers did us no favors there.  With road games against the defending champ Lakers and in Utah where the Clippers never win, each followed on the second night of back to backs against the Suns and Mavs, the Clippers could easily begin the season 0-4 and frankly will be lucky to win any of those.  That's the bad news.

The good news is that November is about as easy as it gets.  11 of the 14 games that month are against teams who were below .500 last season, and eight of the 14 are at home.  They play three games against Memphis and two against Minnesota in that one month.  The bottom line is that even with a rough start the first week of the season, the Clippers could easily get on a roll and pick up some momentum heading into December.  Of course, the schedule will get tougher - it would be nice if you could play Memphis three times every month, but unfortunately they'll only show up on the schedule one more time all season.  But if the team can build some confidence during that soft stretch, there's a chance that they'll be able to parlay that into a better than expected season.

If on the other hand the Clippers are several games below .500 on Dec. 1 after wasting the softest part of their schedule, it will be a long season ending in another trip to the lottery.  So I think we'll know something pretty quickly.