The release of this season’s schedule should punctuate the doldrums of the offseason sometime in the next week or two. When it comes out, the two marquee dates most fans flock to first are their team’s opener and the Christmas Day slate.
While the Clippers have played on Christmas Day five years straight, they usually tend not to play on the very opening night of the season. The season usually begins with three games on the last Tuesday of October, with most teams playing their first games the following night (occasionally, you have teams who don’t start till until Thursday night, like L.A. in 2014-2015). Here’s who the Clippers have played in their opener and in their Christmas game during the past five years:
|2011-12||Golden State Warriors||Golden State Warriors|
|2012-13||Memphis Grizzlies||Denver Nuggets|
|2013-14||Los Angeles Lakers||Golden State Warriors|
|2014-15||Oklahoma City Thunder||Golden State Warriors|
|2015-16||Sacramento Kings||Los Angeles Lakers|
NB: In 2011, the opener doubled as the Christmas game, because of the lockout that summer.
Based on these trends, we can expect the Clippers to continue to play Western Conference opponents on both of these dates. Their openers the last four years have all been in Los Angeles, and they’ve played all five of their Christmas games in the nightcap slot (10:30 PM EST/7:30 PM PST); neither seems likely to change. With that in mind, we try to project some of the best matchups that we could realistically see on those dates this season.
New Orleans Pelicans: The Clippers’ openers in recent years have tended to be against mediocre teams (although 2014 against OKC was the product of injuries to Westbrook and Durant), but the Pelicans would provide a good opening-night test for Los Angeles. Competitive, but probably still a win — important for a team that’s come out of the gates frustratingly slow the last few years. Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin are probably still the two best power forwards in the NBA in some order, but both have been forgotten due to injuries and disappointing outcomes last year. This could help revive that debate.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Minnesota won their last game at the Staples Center against the Clippers, back in early February. They've only improved since then (they beat the Warriors — at Oracle! — in April), and a win is far from guaranteed.
Between Tom Thibodeau and Kevin Garnett, the Wolves have a little bit of history with the Clippers (especially if Paul Pierce hasn’t retired by then). Blake Griffin might have some extra motivation too — the last time he saw Minnesota, KG did this to him.
But most importantly: COLE ALDRICH REVENGE GAME.
Golden State Warriors: If they don’t open against the Thunder (as many anticipate), it makes a lot of sense to see Golden State play their first game against the Clippers. We get a potential WCF preview and the rekindling of a rivalry that’s been the fiercest in the NBA for the past few years. The wind has gone out of those sails recently as the Warriors have taken 7 of 8 the last two years, but the record doesn’t show how competitive many of those games have been.
From LA’s perspective, it’d also be advantageous to see Golden State as early as possible. Assuming that it takes time to bring Kevin Durant into the fold, the Warriors will probably be at their most vulnerable at the beginning of the year. How sweet would it be to play spoiler on opening night?
If this doesn’t happen, we can still expect to see Dubs-Clips very early in the schedule. They’ve played within the first two weeks of the season three years running.
Portland Trail Blazers: The Blazers haven’t had a Christmas game in recent memory, but Damian Lillard is an extremely marketable star and their surprise playoff run last year raised their profile around the league. They’ll have at least one nationally televised game against the Clippers this year, and perhaps more.
For LA, this is an opportunity to get some payback after the Blazers eked past an injury-devastated shell of the Clippers in April. The half-healthy version we saw in the first two games of that series rolled over Portland, but it would nice to see what the Clippers are capable of at full strength for a change.
San Antonio Spurs: Last year’s nightcap against the Lakers was a depressing snoozer (and that’s before Blake aggravated the quad injury that would keep him out till April). Games against good teams bring more intrigue and excitement, like the matchups with the Warriors and Nuggets in years past. The stakes would be high in a Christmas Night showdown between Los Angeles and San Antonio, by consensus the two best teams in the West after Golden State.
Los Angeles Lakers: Not everyone wants to sit around watching basketball late into the night on Christmas. We don’t always want intensely competitive games that demand our attention for the full 48 minutes. The holidays are about more than just basketball A Yuletide rematch against the Lakers is perfect for that crowd: a family-friendly, highlight-packed game that should be decided by halftime.