LOS ANGELES — It wasn’t easy, and the L.A. Clippers lost some very winnable games, but the toughest part of their NBA schedule is now over with. Although the team still has two more games left to play in the month of March, which boasted 18 games in it’s 31 days, L.A. just completed a grueling stretch of eight games in just 12 days, including three back-to-back sets. That doesn’t even highlight the amount of miles the Clippers piled up going from home to Milwaukee and Chicago. Then, from Chicago, it was back home for a single game before going back East to Minnesota and Memphis.
Many teams see a rough patch of games they have to get through when they look at the newly-released season schedules in August, but March of 2017 has been one the weirdest months in recent history for the Clippers. They started out with five games in seven nights in the first half of the month, and followed that up with the eight games-in-12 days stretch.
“Everyone has a stretch similar,” said coach Doc Rivers at the beginning of this hectic month. “I don’t know if it’s this tough but everyone has tough stretches. Some are early, some are late. You’ve just got to get through it and keep improving.”
Nine of the 18 games coming against playoff-bound opponents meant the Clippers had a decent opportunity to climb in the Western Conference standings, but the month’s five back-to-back sets, including an unheard of pair of games on Saturday and Sunday with 12:30 PM start times, put L.A. at eight wins, seven losses, and two March games remaining.
“It’s just different when you play back-to-back afternoon games,” said Rivers. “We talk about scheduling, this is one of the games that I saw that I was like, “Two 12:30 PM games? I don’t want that,’ but we couldn’t get it changed. You have to go into the game knowing that you have to watch your guys, in any back-to-back, but this is just a strange one.”
Entering March, head coach Doc Rivers and the team had been eyeing a number of games that would be suitable to rest weary starters, but a three-game stretch against Cleveland, New York, and the inner-city rival Lakers where the starters didn’t have to close out games made it much easier for them to stay fresh.
L.A. now has seven games in the next 17 days to close out the NBA’s regular season (three against playoff opponents). More importantly, however, they’ll get substantial time together in their Playa Vista practice facility for the first time in over a month. Sometimes during the taxing 82-game schedule, teams and players get away from what the things that work. Practice should assist in bringing back the basics starting Tuesday.
“We need [the practice],” revealed coach Rivers after the disappointing loss to the Kings on Sunday, their eighth game in 12 days. “We’re going to take tomorrow off, but we’re not going to go crazy hard [on Tuesday]. You would love to, I mean the fact that I can say the word ‘practice’ is really nice. We haven’t had them because of the schedule, but we need practices. The good news is now with this stretch, and I think we’re ready. I like how we’re trending, but I think the practices will take us over the top.
“You’re not going to push them. It’s really just execution, muscle-memory, film work. We haven’t been able to do that where it’s actually basketball. I think this will be really good for us.”
Like the rest of his teammates, Blake Griffin is looking forward to taking these next 48 hours to recover, regroup, and close out the month of March, as well as the regular season, on a high-note.
“It’ll be great,” said Griffin of practicing. “We’ll get a day for everyone to rest, get the treatment they need since we’re a little banged up. And then it’s going to be nice to just have a practice to be able to get up and down, work on some stuff, and hopefully that gets us into a better groove.”