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For Clippers, Pistons Match-Up A Reminder that Early Success Can Be Fleeting

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Things were going great at the beginning of last season, too.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It was only 11 months ago—November 21st, 2016—when national pundits were essentially in agreement that the Clippers were among the best teams in basketball. They had risen to the top spot in quite a few of the major national power rankings (Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports, NBA.com), and HoopsHype had Clippers guard Chris Paul in first place in the MVP race (with Blake Griffin in 8th).

The Clippers were 14-2, with one of the best SRS marks of any team in NBA history, heading into a November 25th game against the Detroit Pistons. Their two losses were in close games to quality opponents—the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies—and they’d compiled quality wins against Portland (2x), Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and Toronto.

In what was perhaps a moment of overconfidence, the Clippers chose to spend the night in Dallas following their November 23rd win against the Mavericks so that they could watch the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving the next day. They then flew to Detroit—costing themselves a day of rest during a 6-game road trip. The result was a lackluster performance against the Pistons that jump-started a three-game slide, with the other losses coming to the Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets.

Not great.

The Clippers’ start to the 2017-18 season hasn’t been quite as prolific so far—they’re 4-0, just a week into the season—but they’ve excelled in advanced metrics, won all of their games, come away with two wins against potential playoff teams, and Blake Griffin has begun to generate some chatter as an MVP candidate. Things are going about as well through four games as one could have hoped (the Milos Teodosic injury notwithstanding). Even early struggles for guys like Danilo Gallinari don’t seem like cause for long-term worry.

I’ve heard from a lot of Clippers fans recently who have asked me: “how do I stop myself from getting overhyped so early in the season?”

A good answer to that question, especially going into tonight’s game against the Detroit Pistons, is to remember that game against the Pistons last season. Not only were the fans over-excited, but the team had become a little too comfortable as well. They were humbled on that road trip and never fully recovered, unable to regain the momentum from that early start as chemistry issues and injuries rocked them all season.

Tonight’s game probably won’t tell us much about this Clippers team on the basketball court—it’s just one game in a long season, against a fairly routine opponent—but it might give us some more insight into the team’s attitude. Coming off of a big win in Portland, with a big match-up looming against the Golden State Warriors on Monday, how will the Clippers handle tonight’s contest against the Detroit Pistons? There are definitely some parallels with last season’s iteration of this match-up. Hopefully a different kind of response tonight can indicate a different long-term trajectory for this year’s squad.