L.A. Clippers' Schedule Breakdown and Predictions for Season's Final 6 Weeks
Chris Paul has stepped up his game, DeAndre Jordan has propelled himself to a new level, and the Clips have won six of eight in Griffin's absence. Doc Rivers is so pleased, he's saying we have to "have an investigation" if Jordan doesn't win Defensive Player of the Year (h/t to NBC Sports).
Now, they have to maintain that intensity over the final six weeks of the season, a stretch which could be mighty friendly to them.
Week of Mar. 2
Home: Portland Trail Blazers (Mar. 4)
Predicted record: 2-1
The Clippers started March off the right way, with a 110-105 victory over the Timberwolves, even if that win did come in a far more stressful fashion than the team would have liked.
L.A. comes home to play the Blazers two days later. That's always a tough game, but the Clips have played Portland well over the past few years, and DeAndre Jordan is a solid LaMarcus Aldridge defender.
D.J. is averaging an unrealistic 17.3 points and 20.5 rebounds in eight games without Griffin (if I could capitalize numbers, 20.5 would absolutely be in all caps for emphasis). If he can continue his scorching streak into the Blazers game, the Clips can actually pull out a win at Staples, even if the Portland roster has improved with the trade-deadline addition of Arron Afflalo.
Sunday's game will be fascinating and not just because the Clippers head north to play the rival Warriors. As Ben Bolch of the L.A. Times reported Monday, it's possible Griffin, who has resumed basketball activities, would return for that game. If he does, Warriors-Clippers takes on a new life during a game that's already nationally televised on ABC. Let's play it conservative and say the Clips drop that one, though, considering Golden State does have the best record in the NBA at the moment.
Week of Mar. 9
Home: Minnesota Timberwolves (Mar. 9), Houston Rockets (Mar. 15)
Away: Oklahoma City Thunder (Mar. 11), Dallas Mavericks (Mar. 13)
Predicted record: 2-2
The second week of March starts off the same way the first week does for the Clippers: with the T'Wolves. This time, the game is at home: even more reason why the Clips should be pulling out a win comfortably. But basketball life gets a bit more uneasy after that.
By Mar. 11, it's perfectly possible Russell Westbrook is back on the court for OKC, which means CP3 will have to deal with the menace who has been the best player in the NBA over the last month or so. Westbrook averaged 31.2 points, 10.3 assists and 9.1 rebounds during February, the first player to put up those numbers in a single month since Oscar Robertson. (And the Big O did it in a time when games were far more possessions and when significantly more rebounds and assists were available.)
Russ is the exact type of explosive point guard with whom Paul can struggle, too, though in the L.A. point guard's defense, everyone struggles with Westbrook. That still feels like a loss, though.
The Clippers then travel south to Dallas, whom this team plays well. Sure, DeAndre and the Clippers are 2-0 against the Mavericks this season, and both those games have been blowouts, but Dallas almost seems too good to get throttled for a third time by the same team. The Mavs are due for a proper showing against the Clips, even if this is a solid matchup for L.A., especially if Griffin has, in fact, returned by then.
Ending the week against Houston should be a nice finish, even if the Rockets are playing tremendous basketball behind the arguable MVP favorite, James Harden. Keeping that in mind, Houston is 1-6 when it faces Chris Paul's team over the past two seasons. The Clippers just play the Rockets well (J.J. Redick is Harden's kryptonite), and it's hard to pick Houston in this one knowing that.
Week of Mar. 16
Away: Sacramento Kings (Mar. 18)
Predicted record: 3-1
The Clippers could easily go 4-0 this week, potentially sending themselves on a potential major winning streak with the slate of games they have over this half-month stretch, but that's no guarantee.
Strangely, the toughest game of the week is probably the one against the Kings.
Sacramento is a dumpster fire, even in the early days of the George Karl era. DeMarcus Cousins may be the most dominant low-post force since Shaquille O'Neal, commanding an obligatory double-team every time he touches the ball around the basket, but the Kings defense is brutal, the ball-movement is often stagnant and the roster has flaws all over.
This isn't exactly how you'd expect an argument for why the Kings can beat the Clippers to go, right? Well, once you add in this bit, it becomes a little more obvious: Look at the schedule.
The Kings game will be the Clippers' seventh in 11 days and will come on the second night of a back-to-back. It doesn't matter how much better one team is than another; if fatigue sets in to such an extreme degree, like is bound to happen here, teams lose to less talented ones. It's the way of the NBA in 2015.
A loss to Sacramento would be fine in the end. The Clippers have a day off to recover and then play a couple of home games against the Wizards, who are struggling mightily of late, and the Pelicans, who could still be without Anthony Davis. Either way, both those games should be wins at Staples. As long as they take those, the Clips would be just dandy even if they are upset by Sacramento.
Week of Mar. 23
Predicted record: 3-0
The winning can continue here.
Usually, traveling thousands of miles to play a road trip that takes place on the opposite coast isn't optimal. It'll lead to losses or injuries or at least fatigue. That last trait may set in at some point considering the cluster of games the Clippers have in March, but it still likely wouldn't stop an undefeated week.
Are the Knicks a threat at all? They have the worst record in the NBA and are missing Carmelo Anthony for the rest of the season.
How about the 76ers? They're supposed to have the worst record in the NBA. They don't have Carmelo Anthony, either.
And the Celtics? Actually, Boston is the best of these three teams. It's well-coached with a few talented players including Kelly Olynyk and the recently acquired Isaiah Thomas, but even one of the two most successful franchises in NBA history can't consider itself a favorite against L.A.
The Clippers should go 3-0 this week. If they don't, it's a disappointment.
Week of Mar. 30
Home: Golden State Warriors (Mar. 31)
Predicted record: 2-2
That Warriors game is going to be a fun one.
Griffin will surely be back on the floor by then, probably with time to spare. With only two weeks left in the season, we'll be at that part of the year when every great game is seemingly on TNT. This is one of them with Charles Barkley and the boys taking over Tuesday night as well as Thursday as the year winds down.
The Clippers have played the Warriors well this season and have even beat them, but they're not going to be the favorites against the NBA's best team. And the next night doesn't make things any easier.
So, you're saying the Clips have to play a team with a 46-11 current record, then get on a plane and play a 39-19 squad on the road the following night? I don't even care who that team is, the Clippers aren't winning. This is probably going to be a second consecutive loss.
The Clips do get a second burst, though.
Denver is usually a scary place to play, but that's not the case anymore. The Nuggets are 12-18 at home and have an even worse record than the Kings at this point. That's a win.
Then, the Clips play the Lakers. It's rivalry time!
It's also winning time. The Lakers need to lose to hold onto their top-five protected pick that would ship off to the 76ers if it falls sixth or later. And even if they didn't have to lose, they would probably find a way to do it, anyway.
Week of April 6
Home: Los Angeles Lakers (April 7), Memphis Grizzlies (April 11)
Predicted record: 2-0
Hey, it's the Lakers again! Who woulda thunk it?
Playing the same team in two consecutive games is always weird. You'd think it would level the playing field a bit for the less talented team, considering all the better team's tendencies will still be fresh on the players' minds. Still, the Clippers are so much better than the Lakers, that it doesn't make much of a difference in this one. The Clippers should still win.
Then comes one of the toughest games of the year: Memphis at home.
The Clippers actually beat up on the Grizzlies over the weekend, defeating them palindromically, 97-79. This time, they're going to have the advantage again and not just because they're the home team.
L.A. has four days between the Lakers game and the Memphis one. That leaves the players with plenty of time to hang in L.A., enjoy the spring weather and get some much needed rest. The Grizzlies, however, are dealing with the exact opposite fortune.
In the midst of a short West Coast roadie, Memphis comes from Utah to L.A. on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Clips are going to be in good shape heading into the Grizzlies game. It appears a schedule loss could be in Memphis' future.
Week of April 13
Home: Denver Nuggets (April 13)
Away: Phoenix Suns (April 14)
Predicted record: 1-1
The season is almost over. Or maybe it's just beginning.
A team like the Clippers doesn't really care about the regular season. They're all about preparing for the playoffs. At this point, they'll almost be there.
A home game against the Nuggets should be a win, regardless of who plays in it. But the Phoenix game has schedule loss written all over it.
First, the Suns routinely play the Clippers well, pushing physical defense and P.J. Tucker on Blake Griffin while holding down the fort in other ways. Plus, Eric Bledsoe can always come out with a little extra fire against the team that traded him.
Second, it's the second night of a back-to-back.
Third, it's on the road.
Fourth, it's the final game of the regular season. If the Clippers have their seed locked in, it's perfectly plausible that Griffin, Paul, Matt Barnes or anyone else sits. (Jordan won't sit out the game entirely so he can keep his league-leading consecutive games played streak alive, but he could start and then sub out after a minute like he did in Game 82 last year.)
1-1 would be just fine if the loss meant nothing anyway, and that's the way it appears it could go.
Judging by the particularly scientific "predicted record," the Clippers project to go 15-7 over this stretch, bringing them to 54-28 on the season, three games worse than last year's record and two games worse than the one from the season before.
Still, 54 wins in the ever-competitive Western Conference would be pretty darn dominant, especially for a team that missed Griffin for a long stretch and was plagued with defensive and positional issues all season.
We hear plenty of negatives about the Clippers, but a core of Paul, Griffin and Jordan has proven it can earn a win total in the mid-50s consistently. If they gets to 54 wins again this year, we'll only have further evidence of that.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade but maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.