For the last month or so, Clippers fans have been relatively invested in scoreboard watching—that is, tracking the results of other games around the NBA as they pertain to the Clippers’ playoff hopes. I know this to be the case because some of my most popular tweets of the last few weeks have been things like “Denver lost tonight!” There was also, of course, the brilliant night of January 10th, when the Clippers not only snapped a years-long losing streak to the Golden State Warriors, but Portland, New Orleans, Denver, and Oklahoma City—all four of the teams directly ahead of the Clippers in the standings—lost, giving L.A. a big step forward in the playoff hunt.
Going forward, as long as the Clippers are in playoff contention, the general idea of scoreboard watching stays the same: first and foremost, the Clippers need to win, but beyond that, every game that a team above them drops is an opportunity. And LAC is certainly still in the playoff hunt: they sit in 9th place with 25 losses, the same as 8th place Denver (though the Nuggets have 2 more wins than the Clippers). Ahead of Denver, Oklahoma City (5th place, 30 wins), Portland (6th place, 29 wins), and New Orleans (7th place, 28 wins) each have 24 losses, just one fewer than the Clippers and Nuggets. San Antonio (21 losses) and Minnesota (22) have given themselves a little bit of separation from the pack, but they’re each a bad week away from sliding right back into the aforementioned scrum.
So, for Clippers fans, this part is easy. Obviously, root for the Clippers (if they drop out of playoff contention this might change, but for now, let’s try to get into the postseason and get as high a seed as possible). Additionally, root against everyone I just mentioned: Denver, New Orleans, Portland, Oklahoma City, Minnesota, and San Antonio. Games where these teams play each other are great nights for the Clippers—someone ahead of them is guaranteed to lose. In those cases, we’d prefer to see the teams closer to LAC lose, even if it means further insulating the teams at the top from the rest of the pack. Still, it’s a good night either way. And when the Clippers play one of those teams, the stakes are high, both in the loss column and in a potential tiebreaker (where head-to-head determines the higher seed).
Last week’s trade with the Detroit Pistons adds another wrinkle to our scoreboard watching this season. As a result of the trade, the Clippers ended up with the Pistons’ 2018 first round pick, protected for the top 4 selections. Even if the rest of Detroit’s season is a disaster, they’re well clear of a bottom-10 record, with a 5-game difference in the loss column between them and the Knicks and Lakers, who are tied for 10th-worst in the NBA. That means the only possibility of the Clippers not getting Detroit’s pick is an insanely unlikely bounce of the draft lottery ping-pong balls, something that is marginally more likely the worse Detroit’s record is, but not in a significant way.
So, we want the Pistons to lose. It hurts, because we’d like for Blake to be successful, but that can wait for next season. For now, it would be nice if the Pistons are on the outside looking in when the first round tips off in April. So, we’re rooting against Detroit, but also rooting for teams like Milwaukee, Indiana, Miami, and Philly, who are the teams directly competing with the Pistons in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
If that can be accomplished, the Pistons’ pick will be guaranteed to be in the top 14. So long as they don’t win the lottery, the Clippers will get that pick. From there, we want to get that pick as high as possible.
Like I said earlier, a catastrophe would be necessary for Detroit to really fall into the league’s cellar. Still, every slot is slightly more valuable than the one after it, and every team that can manage to pass the Pistons means slightly more value for the Clippers. That means a hot streak for teams like Utah and Charlotte could translate to additional draft value for LAC. (If the Clippers miss the playoffs, we’d want these teams to pass LAC as well. Post-season action is nice, but if we can’t get it, I’d rather have pick 12 than 14.)
So, to clarify, here are the teams that we care about winning/losing in the weeks to come:
Teams Clippers Fans Should Want to Lose (highest priority to lowest priority): Denver, New Orleans, Portland, Detroit, Oklahoma City, Minnesota, San Antonio
Teams Clippers Fans Should Want to Win (highest priority to lowest priority): Clippers, Philadelphia, Indiana, Miami, Utah, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Washington, Cleveland
Teams whose results have no impact on the Clippers: Golden State, Houston, Boston, Toronto, New York, Lakers, Brooklyn, Memphis, Chicago, Phoenix, Dallas, Sacramento, Atlanta, Orlando
Now, as the season goes on, teams will drop off of each of the Lose/Win lists. This will occur naturally as teams like San Antonio and Cleveland cement their positioning ahead of the other teams in their respective playoff races. There could be some other surprises as well—a hot finish to the season by the Knicks could pique our interest, or Utah could become an adversary if they get going and one of the current Western Conference playoff teams falls off of a cliff.
For now, though, the above list is a good guide. Here’s how it applies to today’s games:
Clippers @ Mavericks: Obviously, we want the Clippers to win.
Trail Blazers @ Pistons: These are both teams that the Clippers want to see lose, so it’s a good match-up in that one of them is guaranteed to take an L. Portland is currently just one loss better than the Clippers in the West playoff race, so they’re a higher priority. We’ll pull for Detroit in this one, but it’s cool if they lose too.
Wizards @ Pacers: Two teams that are trying to hold off Detroit in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Unfortunately, one of them has to lose. We’d prefer an Indiana win since their spot is more vulnerable than Washington’s.
Jazz @ Pelicans: There’s something unsettling about rooting for Utah, but that’s what we’re doing in this game. New Orleans is only one loss better than the Clippers, and Utah is the team directly ahead of Detroit in the draft order.
Hornets @ Nuggets: Another potential double-whammy for the Clippers. Charlotte is in 10th place in the east, chasing 9th place Detroit, while Denver is in 8th place in the West, directly ahead of the Clippers. A Charlotte win would be big here.