Saying that any regular season game doesn’t matter is more or less true, though the idea is inherently flawed. If one single game has 0 value, then logically, all 82 games combined have 0 value. So it follows that going 82-0 or 0-82 make no difference, which is obviously not true.
It’s the same principle that makes the “my vote doesn’t matter” argument flawed: one vote might not individually make the difference, but it does matter collectively. Individual votes don’t matter individually, but individual votes matter collectively. Individual regular-season basketball games may not end up mattering individually, but they do matter collectively.
That doesn’t mean that every time your team loses a regular season game, you should hit the panic button. Everyone loses some games—it’s impossible to win all of them. Similarly, no candidate can convince everyone to vote for them. Someone is always going to back your opposition. In both worlds, you have to live with sometimes imperfect individual results so long as the collective result is favorable.
So, the Clippers’ loss to New Orleans last night doesn’t really matter individually. Every team in the NBA—even the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs—has lost at least one game to a team under .500 this year. Unfavorable individual results are a reality.
Similarly, the Clippers’ losses to Detroit, Indiana, Brooklyn, Indiana again, Washington, Dallas, the Lakers, and Denver don’t really matter individually. Like I said, everyone loses games to bad teams sometimes.
But when you put all nine of those games together, they suddenly matter a whole lot. Only the 9-22 Phoenix Suns have more losses to teams with records under .500, with 12 such games. Those 9 losses are the difference between the Clippers sitting at 31-3 and 22-12—the latter might be fine, but the former would be historic. And sure, even in a perfect world, the Clippers probably don’t win all 9 of those, especially with some of the losses being dealt to a skeleton crew playing without Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and J.J. Redick. Even swinging some of those games—for example, the 6 that Chris Paul actually appeared in—moves the Clippers to 28-6, tied for 2nd in the West with two bonus wins over San Antonio and just one loss behind the Golden State Warriors.
Unfortunately, we have to live in our reality, not a preferable one where the Clippers show up to those games on that late-November road trip. In a better universe, the Clippers’ games against the Warriors and Spurs would be crucial as the three battled for the top seed in the conference. In our universe, the top two seeds can almost be forgotten as the team’s best hopes seem to lie in catching the Houston Rockets for the 3-seed.
The Clippers play the Rockets tomorrow, the first of three head-to-head contests. The other two come on March 1st and April 10th. Aside from the games already played (34 for LAC, 33 for Houston) and those three head-to-head games, there are about 45 other games in the year (46 for the Rockets). Depending on how those three games go, here’s how the fight for the 3-seed looks:
Clippers sweep, 3-0: Both teams have 12 losses, and the Clippers have the tiebreaker.
How the Clippers get the 3-seed: If the Clippers lose the same amount of games (or less) in their other 45 as Houston does in their other 46.
How the Rockets get the 3-seed: If the Clippers lose more games in their other 45 than Houston does in their other 46.
Clippers win, 2-1: The Rockets have 11 losses and the Clippers have 13, but own the tiebreaker.
How the Clippers get the 3-seed: If the Clippers can lose 2 less games in their other 45 than Houston does in their other 46.
How the Rockets get the 3-seed: If the Clippers lose 1 less game in their other 45 than Houston does in their other 46, if the teams lose the game amount of games, or if the Clippers lose more games.
Rockets win, 2-1: The Rockets have 10 losses and own the tiebreaker vs the Clippers, who have 14 losses.
How the Clippers get the 3-seed: If the Clippers lose 5 less games in their other 45 than Houston does in their other 46.
How the Rockets get the 3-seed: If the Clippers lose 4 (or fewer) less games in their other 45 than Houston does in their other 46, if the teams lose the same amount of games, or if the Clippers lose more games.
Rockets sweep, 3-0: The Rockets have 9 losses and own the tiebreaker vs the Clippers, who have 15 losses.
How the Clippers get the 3-seed: If the Clippers lose 7 less games in their other 45 than Houston does in their other 46.
How the Rockets get the 3-seed: Anything other than a total collapse.
Kinda goes to show how important tomorrow night’s game is, right? It didn’t have to be this crucial, but the Clippers’ bad losses have turned games against the teams close to them in the standings into must-wins. Anyone in the middle part of the standings, like Oklahoma City and Memphis, might not be huge worries at this moment in time. The Clippers are still ahead of those teams and have to believe that they’ll be able to stay ahead just by outperforming them in the second half of the season. But in order to make up ground and get out of a 1-4 second round match-up, they’ll have to crank up the intensity and pass the Rockets—a difficult mission that starts tomorrow night in Houston.