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The Clippers 2014-15 schedule -- let's dive in

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The Clippers schedule was released yesterday. Let's take an in depth look at what it holds for the team.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014-2015 season schedule for the Los Angeles Clippers was released yesterday. Every NBA schedule is more or less the same. Every team plays 82 games, 41 at home and 41 on the road, two each against the "other" conference, four each against 11 of 15 teams in their own conference. The NBA schedule is as balanced as it can reasonably be.

However, there are some subtle differences, and this time of year, we have nothing to talk about other than subtleties. So what are we waiting for?

Three game series

Each team plays four conference rivals from out of their own division three times instead of four and With each three game series comes an imbalance in home and road games. The Clippers four three game series this season come against:

Oklahoma City Thunder (1 home, 2 away)

Dallas Mavericks (1 home, 2 away)

Minnesota Timberwolves (2 home, 1 away)

New Orleans Pelicans (2 home, 1 away)

While this list might look pretty favorable at first glance, given that one of the four games they "miss" this season will come against the mighty Thunder, the reality is that this aspect of the schedule could not have gone much worse. The NBA tries to balance these opponents as best they can, with one "good" team and one "bad" team from each of the other divisions. So it's not as if you're going to get three game series against the Thunder, Spurs, Rockets and Grizzlies.

The worst news comes in the home/away split. For some reason, the Clippers were given "extra" road games in Oklahoma and Dallas, while they get to host the Timberwolves and Pelicans an extra game each. The Wolves without Kevin Love are likely to be among the worst teams in the Western Conference, so winning in Minneapolis isn't exactly tough. So even though New Orleans is arguably a "good" "bad" team to avoid (as Anthony Davis develops and with the return of Ryan Anderson and addition of Omer Asik, the Pellies could actually be very tough) those extra road games against the Thunder and the probably improved Mavs are going to hurt.

The worst case scenario is this: the Clippers and Thunder finish with identical regular season records with OKC winning the season series 2-1 based on the home court advantage in the schedule. If they then meet in the playoffs as they did last season, OKC would have home court advantage there as well. That would suck.

Back to backs

The dirty secret of the supposedly balanced NBA schedule is that every team has some number of schedule losses built in. Statistically speaking, teams playing in the second game of a back-to-back on the road lose at a much higher rate than they lose other road games. So the more road back-yo-backs you have, especially those against good teams, the more losses. It's just math. Obviously, good teams will do better in those games than bad teams, but it impacts every team. So the more back-to-backs you have in your schedule, the worse your schedule is relative to other teams.

The Clippers came out relatively well in back-to-backs this season, which is somewhat surprising. With 20 back-to-backs (incorrectly reported as 19 in the Clippers' press release), the team is in the middle of the pack this season. It's surprising because frequently the Clippers are near the top of the league in B2Bs, owing to their west coast location and their place in the STAPLES Center pecking order for scheduling.

Of the 20 back-to-backs, 15 come on the road (though one of those is without travel, the second game of the season against the Lakers after playing at home the prior evening). That makes 14 road back-to-backs with travel, the truly thankless kind. However, relatively few of them jump out as out-and-out schedule losses -- January 31 in San Antonio, February 9 in Dallas, April 1 at Portland and April 14 at Phoenix all look pretty daunting, but the rest seem somewhat winnable. Strangely, among the 20 B2B opponents are two games each against Minnesota, Milwaukee, the Lakers, Sacramento, Utah and Miami. The Heat won't be terrible, but certainly won't be the same without LeBron James. Those other five teams are among the weaker opponents in the entire league. So all in all, the Clippers came out in great shape concerning back-to-backs.

Long road trips

The reality for a Pacific division team is that they will take some long road trips. Fully sixty percent of NBA teams (18 of 30) are east of the Mississippi (including the three Western Conference teams on the river), so when you leave the Pacific time zone, it only makes sense to stay gone for a while to cut down on travel. The Clippers have a further complication in that their home venue is a very busy place, one which kicks all three home teams out for a couple weeks when the Grammy Awards invade STAPLES Center each winter.

The Clippers have two especially long road trips this season -- a seven gamer in November, and a season high eight gamer in late January and early February, the dreaded Grammy trip. Perhaps the silver lining on that is the fact that the first one comes early in the season, when they should be relatively fresh. The storm cloud inside that silver lining is that they'll play those seven road games in 11 nights including three back-to-backs -- a brutal stretch for any team.

Those two long trips are counter-balanced by one remarkably long home stand -- nine straight from Christmas night until January 11. It is the longest home stand in the NBA this season.

In addition, the Clippers open the season with eight of their first nine games in Los Angeles, and they don't leave the state of California until they begin the seven game roadie. That home and travel friendly early schedule could help the team to a quick start and build early season confidence.

Big games

The Clippers have entered the league's elite in terms of scheduling. They're on ABC four times, TNT nine times and ESPN 10 times, with another nine games on NBA-TV.

The biggest of those games come to open the season with the Thunder in STAPLES Center and as the night cap of the Christmas coverage hosting the Warriors, both on TNT. It's the second season in a row that the Clippers and Warriors meet on Christmas and comes on the heels of a heated playoff series. It's no real shock that the Clippers and Warriors are part of the marquee Christmas schedule -- if the teams keep delivering riveting games, that rivalry could be a fixture for many years.

One anomaly of the schedule is that after opening night, Kevin Durant and the Thunder will not visit the Clippers in LA until and unless they once again meet in the playoffs. With only one home game against the Thunder, and that game coming on the first game of the season, it will be difficult to gauge the strength of the team against one of their key opponents at the top of the conference.

Oddities

One of the bizarre eccentricities of last season's schedule was the tendency for the Clippers' big TV games to fall on the second night of road back-to-backs. As a result, the team tended to look very lackluster when the national spotlight was on them.

That does not appear to be an issue this season. October 29th against the Lakers on ESPN (technically on the road but obviously in LA , which in theory should not be a problem), November 20th in Miami on TNT, January 31st in San Antonio on ESPN and April 14th in Phoenix on TNT are the only four national TV road back to backs the team has (I'm not including NBA-TV, which is covered by local announcers). In other words, 19 out of 23 of their true national TV games are NOT on the second night of a back to back, in stark contrast to last season.

Month by month

We've seen vividly in the past that not all months of the NBA schedule are created equally. The Clippers won a franchise record 17 straight games, including a perfect 16-0 December, back in 2012. But that was due in large part to an incredibly soft schedule that month.

A quick glance at the monthly break down shows that the Clippers have their easier months in the first half of the season. Prior to the start of their Grammy trip on January 28th, the Clippers play 27 of their first 45 games at home. They also play against a generally softer set of opponents until the end of January.

Month

Total

Home

Road

Playoff

Lottery

Oct/Nov

16

7

9

9

7

December

17

11

6

7

10

January

15

9

6

6

9

February

11

4

7

9

2

March

16

7

9

9

7

April

7

3

4

2

5

Totals

82

41

41

42

40

This means that the Clippers have a great chance to be at or near the top of the standings through late January. Conversely, it also means that if they are NOT near the top of the standings, they could be in some trouble when the schedule turns tougher in February.

February is by far the toughest month, owing in part to the Grammy trip, but also because of the quality of the opposition. Nine of 11 February opponents made the playoffs last season -- and one of the two that did not is Cleveland, the new home of two of the best players in the league. In short, February has the potential to be the worst month of the Doc Rivers era, and if they can survive it with their playoff seeding more or less in tact, it will be a major accomplishment.

It's worth noting that the most brutal stretch actually extends beyond the month of February. From the start of the Grammy trip on Jan 28th until the conclusion of a four game roadie on March 2nd, the Clippers play 12 of 16 games on the road, with 11 playoff opponents and Cleveland on the slate. Ouch. Honestly, we may have to wait until that sequence to really know what to expect from this team. The only good news in there is that the newly expanded All Star break, which features a full eight days between games, will give the team a chance to regroup in the middle of that incredibly difficult series of games.

Conclusion

The Clippers got lucky in back-to-backs, very unlucky in only hosting the Thunder once. Other than that, things always tend to balance out, but that balance may prove key this season. The first half of the season is simply easier than the second half -- if the Clippers aren't at the top of the Western Conference in late January, they could begin to slide from there as the schedule turns hellish. Conversely, if they can get into March in a good position in the standings, then they'll be in very good shape indeed.