INSIDER: 2013-14 TOP 5 ROAD GAMES
Continuing the conversation about some of the best games of the 2013-14 Clippers’ season, we hit the road, a place where the Clippers compiled a franchise-record .585 winning percentage on the road. Here are five road games that stand out, considering opponent, history and ulterior circumstances such as the time of year or what could be at stake.
5. Brooklyn Nets on Dec. 12
You could argue the game a day before this will drum up more national intrigue when Clippers head coach Doc Rivers makes his return to Boston on Dec. 11. However, game six on the Clippers’ first of two seven-game road trips will likely be a better game… and still present a wild amount of intrigue. While it won’t be Rivers’ first game against longtime former Celtics Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (they visit Los Angeles on Nov. 16), it will be the first and only regular-season matchup on the road. Throw in the Chris Paul-Deron Williams storyline, Brooklyn’s ambition as a contender, the New York media, and the fact that the Clippers lost in their debut at Barclays Center last year and the Dec. 12 game certainly feels worthy of the opening game of a Thursday TNT doubleheader.
In addition to the game, between two teams expected to finish in the top four of their respective conferences, it is a back-to-back and the close out of the Clippers’ first lengthy road trip of the season and should give an indication of how the Clippers look in the face of adversity… in game No. 25 and the 14th road game no less.
4. Portland Trail Blazers on Apr. 16
It is the final game of the regular season, and third time in the last nine years that the Clippers open and close the season on the road. Considering the Western Conference could be 10-11 teams deep, certain spots in the standings could still be up for grabs. It certainly was on the season’s final Wednesday of 2013, when the Clippers won a thriller in Sacramento to secure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs after both Denver and Memphis won earlier in the night. It would not be surprising if a similar scenario unfolded again a year later.
Portland is expected to be a much improved team this year. Damian Lillard has another year of experience, the bench has been upgraded from a league-worst 18.5 points per game, including former Clipper Mo Williams, and, of course, LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Blake Griffin presents a matchup of All-Star power forwards.
3. Golden State Warriors on Dec. 25
The Clippers play the Warriors twice before the New Year. The first game, the home opener, comes on Halloween and the second one falls on Christmas Day in Oakland—which assuredly means some special edition uniforms. The first time the Clippers visited Oracle Arena last season marked their first game after the end of their 17-game winning streak, on a back-to-back from Denver no less. That didn’t mean Warriors fans were any less charged up. In the so-called “Whiteout” game, the Warriors jumped out to a 20-plus point lead and cruised relatively easily past the Clippers to earn their second win in a row over them. As mentioned in the top five home games, the sense of rivalry between the Clippers and Warriors was only heightened after that first loss in Oakland.
Of course, the Warriors, who as the No. 6 seed advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2007 last season, also pose a matchup problem for the Clippers. Golden State led the NBA with an astonishing 40.3 percent accuracy from 3-point distance in 2012-13, the best team percentage from beyond the arc since the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns. The Clippers’ 3-point defense ranked in the bottom third of the league, including earning a record of 12-19 when opponents shot 40 percent or better.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder on Feb. 23
All eyes in the NBA should be on the Clippers-Thunder matchups all season… each of the four games between the Western Conference contenders are on ESPN, TNT or ABC. The latter network will broadcast the Feb. 23 meeting at Chesapeake Energy Arena. It will be the first game between OKC and the Clippers since November and it will land three days after the trade deadline. Effectively, both teams will have their rosters set for the playoffs, barring a late-season injury or waiver-wire pickup.
The game will present its share of challenges on the court, but it will also be the middle game of a daunting three-game trip shortly after the All-Star break. The Clippers play at home against San Antonio, three nights later play at Memphis and then travel to Oklahoma for a 10 a.m. Pacific Time start on Sunday. That’s not a back-to-back, but it’s not really full day off either. Rivers is a big proponent of getting his players rest, so this game and the following night in New Orleans will be one of the ultimate tests in that way as well.
1. Miami Heat on Nov. 7
Remember the last visit to Miami? It was supposed to be one of the most joyous moments of the regular season: the return of Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups from injury in one fell swoop. The triumphant returns were coupled with Chris Bosh and Ray Allen being forced to sit out with the flu. However, the game quickly unraveled and one of the worst losses of the season sort of opened the initial floodgates for the somewhat ridiculous “can’t beat elite teams” rhetoric. Still, the Clippers haven’t won in Miami since 2008, three years prior to LeBron James’ arrival. In the Paul-era, the Clippers are 2-1 against the two-time defending champions, but the one (a 111-89 loss), likely has stuck with the hyper-competitive Paul much longer than the other two.