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Season Projections for the Clippers and the NBA

Last year I picked every single NBA game in an effort to get an accurate (or semi-accurate) portrayal of how I thought every team would play and what their record would be. I did it again this year, giving you some insight into the Clippers and the rest of the league.

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Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Before I — sorry, we — delve too much into the Clippers' upcoming season, it'd probably be best to take a look at how I foresee the records for each team this year. Keep in mind, I doubt any of these will be spot-on accurate whatsoever. Last year my goal was to get within five games of the team's final record. This year, my goal is to get within three games of a team's final record. Obviously that's insanely hard to do but I figure a challenge like that makes it worthwhile. Either way, here is how I see each conference shaking up this year during the regular season:

San Antonio Spurs (58-24)
Cleveland Cavaliers (64-18)
Los Angeles Clippers (57-25)
Chicago Bulls (59-23)
Golden State Warriors (56-26)
Charlotte Hornets (51-31)
Oklahoma City Thunder (54-28)
Toronto Raptors (48-34)
Phoenix Suns (51-31)
Washington Wizards (47-35)
Dallas Mavericks (50-32)
Miami Heat (47-35)
Portland Trail Blazers (49-33)
Atlanta Hawks (42-40)
Memphis Grizzlies (49-33)
Brooklyn Nets (40-42)
Houston Rockets (47-35)
Detroit Pistons (35-47)
Denver Nuggets (47-35)
Milwaukee Bucks (32-50)
New Orleans Pelicans (44-38)
New York Knicks (30-52)
Utah Jazz (28-54)
Indiana Pacers (21-61)
Minnesota Timberwolves (26-56)
Orlando Magic (21-61)
Los Angeles Lakers (24-58)
Boston Celtics (20-62)
Sacramento Kings (23-59)
Philadelphia 76ers (10-72)

Before getting up in arms over some of these records, you have to take a few factors into consideration. Most importantly, no matter how bad a team is overall, they're almost always very competitive at home and win the majority of their games on their home floor. The book "Scorecasting" touched on this very subject. In the NBA, from 1946 to 2009, teams that were at home won 62.7% of their total games. That was almost on par with College Football (64.0%) and the English Premier League (63.1%).

It goes without saying that homecourt advantage is huge. Very huge. This is why it's hard for teams without homecourt in the playoffs to win a series that often. You'll see a couple teams steal a series here and there every year but you very rarely see a team without homecourt go on a massive run and get to the NBA Finals. It's almost impossible.

Even the worst team in basketball last season, the Milwaukee Bucks (15-67), won twice as many games at home than they did on the road. Only four teams in the last five years have won more road games than home games in an NBA season, and three of those teams finished with under 30 wins. The following table represents every team over the last decade of basketball to have won more road games than home games in an NBA season.

New Jersey Nets 22-44 9-24 12-30
Sacramento Kings 24-58 11-30 13-28
Philadelphia 76ers 27-55 12-29 15-26
Boston Celtics 50-32 24-17 26-15
Minnesota Timberwolves 24-58 11-30 13-28
Orlando Magic 52-30 25-16 27-14
Detroit Pistons 53-29 26-15 27-14
Houston Rockets 34-48 15-26 19-22

As you can see, just eight teams over the last ten seasons have had a better road record than home record. However, only three of those teams posted a winning record. The only one of those three teams to post a winning record to make it all the way to the NBA Finals in that same season was the 2009-2010 Boston Celtics. They lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games after blowing a 3-2 series lead and losing the final two games on the road. That year's Celtics team, despite posting a 26-15 (.634) road record, still only went 6-6 on the road in the playoffs.

The other two teams to make the playoffs over the last decade with more road wins than home wins managed to go a combined 5-8 on the road in the playoffs. The 2007-2008 Orlando Magic went 1-4 while the 2006-2007 Detroit Pistons went 4-4. So, in totality, those three teams managed to go a combined 11-14 on the road during those seasons they racked up more road wins than home wins.

There have been 300 seasons played by NBA teams over the last decade. And just eight have posted a better road record than home record. That's only 2.67% of the time. That gives about an 8% chance of seeing it happen this upcoming season. Either way, the point is that winning at home is far more easier than winning on the road is. There are a lot of factors that go into it. There's lighting, travel, exhaustion, not sleeping in your own bed, sleeping on a plane, referees favoring home teams because they don't want to disappoint 20,000 fans, etc. You name it and it would apply. So when you see the vast majority of Western Conference teams with a record above .500 in the chart at the top of the page, it's because (a) those teams are very good and (b) it's just so damn hard to win on the road.

I could talk all day about the upcoming NBA season and what each team should and shouldn't expect. However, I'm here to mainly talk about the Clippers and what I perceive their fortunes to be, based on schedule and other mitigating factors. If you were listening to Jeff Van Gundy call the game the other night on ESPN, you probably heard him say that he thinks the Los Angeles Clippers will have the best record in basketball. First off, that's insane. That's not happening. I can just say that right now.

Why is that not happening? Because they're not the best team in basketball and their schedule, in a lot of ways, prohibits them from being so. So let's start breaking that down. I should have apologized earlier for the amount of tables in here but tables are easier to see information and easier is better. Or something.

15 14 3 0

Okay, let's break this down in segments. This year, the Los Angeles Clippers will play 20 back-to-backs in total. That includes the ones they'll play at home. However, the Clippers will play more games on the road on the second night of a back-to-back (SEGABABA, for short) than their opponents will. It's not much, though. It's 15 to 14. However, one of those requires zero travel for the Clippers — against the Lakers inside the Staples Center as a "road game," the night after a Clippers home tilt. So it's really 14 to 14.

The one part of this that should astound and sort of worry you is that the Clippers will play three separate stretches of 4-games-in-5-nights (4-in-5, for short) while their opponents will play zero. That's right, zero. The only other teams who play zero opponents this year when an opponent would be in a 4-in-5 stretch are the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors. Both of those teams, like the Clippers, play three 4-in-5 stints. A crazy anomaly is that the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs each play zero 4-in-5 stretches but each get one opponent this season during a 4-in-5. For a team like San Antonio, that should do wonders for their health and longevity this year.

In another interesting find in the schedule, the Clippers play 19 opponents this year when their opponent has had at least two days of rest prior to the game. And, outside of the All-Star Break, the Clippers only get one string of off days numbering larger than three (it's four and it comes from November 11th to November 14th). While four sounds large, Oklahoma City actually has a five day break this season before traveling to play Houston, while Houston is arriving home on the second game of a back-to-back. The Spurs, like the Clippers, also get a four day break but nothing more.

The Clippers' toughest stretch this season will be the 8-game Grammy Road Trip that they endure every year. From January 28th to February 9th, the Clippers will be in eight cities in thirteen days. I don't foresee that trip going well. In fact, I penciled (or excel'd?) them in for a 2-6 trip with the lone wins being at Utah and at Brooklyn after having off days beforehand. This part of the schedule is just ridiculous. They play back-to-backs against New Orleans and San Antonio, Cleveland and Toronto, and Oklahoma City and Dallas. If the schedule broke differently and had Toronto and Dallas as the first games of those back-to-backs, I'd see a better trip. But I don't. The Spurs have two off days prior to the Clippers waltzing in, Toronto has an off day prior, and Dallas has one off day.

This isn't the only long road trip for the Clippers this season, though. From November 19th to November 29th, the Clippers will play seven games in eleven days. While the games against Orlando and Detroit should be wins, it's not crazy to think that the Clippers could actually lose every other game on this trip. Outside of the aforementioned two, they'll be playing Miami a night after playing Orlando, Memphis, Charlotte a night after Memphis, Houston, and Utah a night after Houston. This isn't an easy stretch either. The fact that the Clippers have two road trips of at least seven games for the second straight year is pretty unreal.

The projection for the 57 wins this year, which was the same total as last season, is due in part to the schedule itself and in part to other teams improving. I know that the Clippers were without J.J. Redick for 47 games last season and that Chris Paul missed 20 games himself. Add in Spencer Hawes and it's tough to see how the Clippers don't improve, right? This is where other teams improving comes into the equation. Golden State should be better than they were last year, same thing with Dallas, Denver, and New Orleans. You also have to factor in that Utah will fight every night with teams, as will Minnesota and Sacramento. The Lakers (and their weird plan of eschewing threes in favor of shooting long twos) are anyone's guess.

When evaluating the opposition and adjusting wins, the Clippers kind of just stayed put. I originally had them at 60 wins but adjusted down because of scheduling and other teams' talent levels. The Clippers are going to make the playoffs as a top-four seed. I'd bet my house on it. I'd also bet my house on the top four seeds in the Western Conference being San Antonio, Los Angeles, Golden State, and Oklahoma City in some order. Homecourt advantage in the playoffs is so paramount that it became hard to pick many upsets when going through the playoff predictions.

(1) San Antonio Spurs
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers
(1) San Antonio Spurs
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers
(8) Memphis Grizzlies
(8) Brooklyn Nets
(1) San Antonio Spurs
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder
(4) Toronto Raptors
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder
(5) Washington Wizards
(5) Phoenix Suns
(5) Washington Wizards
(1) San Antonio Spurs
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers
(3) Golden State Warriors
(3) Charlotte Hornets
(3) Golden State Warriors
(3) Charlotte Hornets
(6) Dallas Mavericks
(6) Miami Heat
(2) Los Angeles Clippers
(2) Chicago Bulls
(2) Los Angeles Clippers
(2) Chicago Bulls
(2) Los Angeles Clippers
(2) Chicago Bulls
(7) Portland Trail Blazers
(7) Atlanta Hawks

You'll notice that I haven't picked an NBA Champion in there. I did on my blog but I don't know how comfortable I am with that. Ultimately, I went with the Cleveland Cavaliers there. I guess I'm going to stick with that for the simple fact that I buy into a LeBron-Love-Kyrie triumvirate with David Blatt leading them. But I still have reservations.

However, that doesn't mean I'm even comfortable putting San Antonio into the NBA Finals or repeating. This is an old team. I know it gets said every year but this is a team that could crack at any moment. And for the second straight season, they played deep into June. For older guys with older legs, it gets tough to keep finding the fountain of youth.

I ultimately had the Clippers losing to the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, but shockingly, I almost had them losing to Golden State in the prior round. I flip-flopped on that pick quite a few times. I always assume full health for teams unless they're going into the season banged up. If Andrew Bogut is healthy and these two teams meet up in the playoffs, it's going to be absolutely unreal to watch them go back-and-forth. Bogut changes a lot. However, at the end of the day, I picked the Clippers because I trust the Clippers star players — Blake Griffin and Chris Paul — more than I trust Golden State's star players. That's what it came down to.

Either way, the playoffs and regular season are a crapshoot a lot of the time. No one really saw Portland coming out of nowhere last year to be a top-five seed. And definitely no one saw Phoenix rising from the ashes and winning as many games as they did, before barely missing out on the playoffs. I have Phoenix firmly in the playoffs this year and could seriously see them being a threat for the Pacific Division title if things break right for them.

I have faith in the Los Angeles Clippers this year. I see them winning between 55-60 games. I pegged them at 57 for a few reasons and I'm going to stick to it. The Western Conference is the toughest conference in sports. There are going to be multiple teams who miss out on the playoffs that have every right to be in there. The playoffs are going to be a bloodbath. It's the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones but the only one who survives is the person with no limbs left.

All told, the schedule this year for the Clippers is not as favorable as it was last year. Last year the Clippers only played in 16 back-to-backs. This year, as noted, it's up to 20. They don't play nearly as many opponents coming in on short rest as they did last year, as well. This team has the makings of a 60-win squad but the schedule and other teams will likely prevent that, as would potential injuries. It's just hard to predict those sorts of things. After all, I'm sure some people thought last year that Steph Curry wouldn't play in 78 games for the second straight season.

No matter what happens this year for the Clippers, whether they win their first NBA Championship in franchise history or falter in the first round under a myriad of unforeseen calamities, it's safe to say that this will still be a good year. We will still have Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and, perhaps most importantly, Steve Ballmer.

Would a championship be awesome? Of course, and I can't even begin to describe the raw emotion that would overwhelm me if they did win a title. But a loss in the conference finals, or even the semifinals, wouldn't be seen as a disappointment. And it shouldn't be. This team is still growing together, still building, and still finding a way. In basketball, anything can happen. Especially in the West. We might have to keep reminding ourselves of that all year.