There was an avalanche of doom and gloom when the Clippers’ schedule was released in August.
Thoughts of a slow start, memories of a nine-game losing streak last year, and a rejuvenated fatalism of Clippers fandom, all pointed to a 1-7 or, gasp, 0-8 opening three weeks. It would have been the NBA’s version of Pai Mei’s five-point palm exploding heart technique. Eight games would have been far too early to write them off as eliminated, but a hyper-competitive West would have allowed the Clippers a few steps, while technically still living, before they collapsed in death.
The good news is that the Clippers survived. The team is better than we may have imagined. The opponents were weaker, or weakened, more than they seemed a few months ago. It certainly helped that Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and James Harden all missed a game in that stretch. It certainly helped that most of those early games were at home. And it certainly helped that Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris have gotten off to career-best type starts.
The Clippers survived healthy; a Boban Marjanovic ankle tweak and a balky Luc Mbah a Moute knee the only things separating the team from perfect health.
The Clippers staked somewhat of an early-claim as a contender for the postseason, hammering the Rockets in Houston, and playing with an overall competitive spirit that will earn enough wins on nights when opponents spent too much time on Sunset the night before a matchup at Staples.
I’m not interested in celebrating a 4-4 start, but considering where things could have been and where many believed they would have been, it’s certainly noteworthy that the team got through it relatively unscathed. In fact, if we are being honest, the 4-4 start is a little dissatisfying, considering five minutes against Denver and a supremely awful third quarter in Oklahoma City likely cost the Clippers a shot at a top 5 record through eight games (6-2).
Moving forward, the November schedule loosens up. There are no back-to-backs until Nov. 19-20 (road tilts with Atlanta and a Washington team that could have imploded by that time). Between Nov. 2 and Dec. 2, seven of the Clippers 14 games are against teams under .500, including Phoenix, Atlanta, Brooklyn and the lowly Wizards. They also play the Grizzlies and Kings, both teams which figured to be among the worst in the West as well.
If the Clippers can manage a 7-2 record in the aforementioned nine games and then go 3-2 against San Antonio, Milwaukee, Golden State, and Portland twice, they tie a bow on the first quarter of the season at 14-8. That would be a 52-win pace. In last season’s West, a top 3 seed. In Clippers history, the fifth best ever.
Maybe it only took three weeks and a few hundred words for my fatalism to fade, but if Lob City is gone, so too should be our lack of optimism. It’s time to start delivering the five-finger death punch.