PATTEN PENDING: LET THE (ROAD) GAMES BEGIN

ATLANTA – The sun was slipping away as the Clippers began descending into the southeastern most stop of their first of two seven-game road trips in the next 45 days.

Above the clouds, the sky was rose pink, a Georgia O’Keeffe painting of vast expanse and possibility; soon after, the lights below reflecting the rainy dusk of streetlights and storefronts.

It was the final minutes of one of the team’s longest remaining flights of the season. When they return to Los Angeles from Washington, D.C., trekking across the country for a second time in two weeks, the Clippers (12-6) will have exhausted more than 6,100 air miles.

It will be more than 330 hours spent away from Los Angeles, away from the creature comforts of home.

Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have both talked about taking long road trips one game at a time, avoiding trying to win them all at once. It’s somewhat the opposite of the big picture approach they take in regards to the season and making team progress.

“It’s our job, C.P., myself and DeAndre [Jordan] to keep reassuring everybody that we can’t look ahead,” Griffin said Sunday. “Something that we always say about a road trip, ‘You can’t win them all without winning the first one,’ so, that’s kind of the mindset that we have to have.”

But at the same time, for a West Coast team heading east it is hard not to do the math.

There are seven hotels in seven different cities in two time zones. There are approximately 200 pieces of luggage and equipment, weighing more than 3,500 pounds. There will be at least 25 bus trips and 24 meal selections on eight flights. Griffin, Paul, Jordan and Co. will play seven opponents on the trip who have a combined winning percentage of .393 through Monday. The Clippers, the team with the league’s toughest schedule through 18 games, likely won’t own it much longer.

That’s not to say they will win all seven games. But the steadfast belief that they can exists deeply. Head Coach Doc Rivers has said numerous times that he’s working to establish a championship mindset. Success on the road, particularly for a team that is just 4-4 in their first eight away games, can serve as a stepping stone for that. 

Teams bond on the road. It’s why the Clippers went to San Diego for training camp in October and ate dinner together at Rivers’ Orlando home a month later, during a three-game trip that included stops in Florida and Texas.

But they are beyond bonding. When they return home, talk of small sample sizes will give way to progress. The trip will include the passing of the first quarter of the season, a reunion in Boston and another a night later in Brooklyn.

In the last four seasons, the Clippers have ventured out on trips that lasted at least six games on eight occasions. They are a combined 20-35 (.364) in those games, including splitting an eight-game trip during last season’s Grammy Awards.

Wednesday in soggy Atlanta, begins the longest non-Grammy trip for the Clippers since the team moved to Staples Center more than a decade ago and the first trip of that length unrelated to the annual awards ceremony since 1996-97. They can only hope things on the court start similar to the flight in, when before descending into the rainy city things were picturesque.