After tense stretch, Clippers ease into softer schedule


Editor’s Note: This story was written before last night’s victory over the Kings

There was a reason why many believed the Clippers could fall out of the playoff race after news of Blake Griffin missing up to six weeks behind elbow surgery.

Without their All-Star forward, a middling Clippers team was preparing to enter their toughest schedule stretch of the season: from Feb. 8, or the first game without Blake Griffin, to yesterday, March 17, Los Angeles played 13 of 16 games against winning teams (record of .500 or above), which consisted of the likes of the Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, and San Antonio Spurs.

And somehow, thanks to the emergence of DeAndre Jordan and flashback performance from Chris Paul, the Clippers managed through the stretch without  (9-7 without Griffin, 0-1 with Griffin).

Including last night’s win over the Charlotte Hornets, the Clippers will — from now until the March 29 — play seven games, five of which will come against opponents currently out of the playoffs in their respective conferences (the two playoff teams being the Washington Wizards who are 1-9 in their last 10 games on the road and the New Orleans Pelicans who are battling with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the final spot in the West — the two teams are currently tied at 37-30).

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  • By this being the case, the Clippers are in the position to gain ground in the hectic Western Conference. Currently the 5th seed behind a record of 43-25, anything outside of the one seed (Golden State) is in their range as the Memphis Grizzlies have struggled post-All-Star break — Los Angeles is 4.0 games behind Memphis.

    Of course, there are no guarantees the Clippers breeze past the soft portion of their schedule, even if the records indicate it’s likely. Per ESPN, the Clippers are 25-4 against below .500 opponents; against the teams they’ll face over this stretch (against, including Charlotte), Los Angeles is 7-1 — while the Boston Celtics are much unlike the team seen earlier in the season with point guard Isaiah Thomas in the picture, the other losing teams have seen minimal general improvement.

    This brief stretch against below .500 games also allows Blake Griffin time to work himself back into the offense. In the last two games, Griffin has looked fairly decent since missing 15 straight games, averaging 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists per game. By the time it’s time for the Clippers to begin playing great teams (Golden State on March 31), the All-Star forward will have knocked back some of the fatigue that has and will continue to plague him through the next few weeks.

    All-in-all, the Clippers have an important stretch ahead. What could be taken as a time to relax is more than that, rather loading up on wins teams behind them in the standings (San Antonio, Dallas) look to be in the position of finding themselves. In regards to possible playoff matchups, who the Clippers play will end up far less important than where they play, but if they can secure homecourt advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs, a successful next six games could be the catapult to that point.