When Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro stood outside the visiting locker room of the American Airlines Center in Dallas this week he talked about the delusional expectations outsiders have for his team. How having a championship-or-bust mentality for a franchise that has never advanced past the second round is nonsense.
Maybe, but many of those expectations were created by his team during the first half of the season, especially through the first 10 games.
The Clippers started the season 8-2, beating the Lakers, Memphis, San Antonio (twice), Portland, Atlanta and Miami. They started the first half of the season a league-best 32-9 and before Miami’s 27-game winning streak, the Clippers held the league’s longest streak this season with a 17-game run in December.
The problem is the Clippers’ haven’t had the same kind of success during the second half of the season, which is normally when contenders separate themselves from pretenders.
The Clippers are 17-14 so far during the second half, heading into Friday’s game against the Spurs. Their longest winning streak during that time has been four games but they went three weeks in March without winning consecutive games and haven’t won three in a row since February. Worse yet, the Clippers are 0-6 against teams seeded sixth or higher in the West since Jan. 14 and are 0-5 against San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Miami since Nov. 20.
Whenever the Clippers talk about themselves as contenders, they will reference their wins over Miami and San Antonio and talk about their winning streak, but all of that happened before the calendars flipped to 2013. This isn’t to say the Clippers can’t regain their old form but they’ve done very little during the second half of the season to make anyone think that they’ll be contending for a championship or even a Western Conference title game berth this season.
Then again, maybe thinking the Clippers could go that far this season goes back to the delusional expectations Del Negro was talking about.
Either way, Friday night’s game against San Antonio is the kind of game the Clippers have to win to get back on track and move closer to the contender category and away from the pretender group they have started to slip toward. A win would give the Clippers a win against one of the league’s top three teams in the league for the first time since Nov. 19 and a win over one of the top six seeds in the West for the first time since Jan. 14. The Clippers can only hang their hats on wins that took place before Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day for so long.
A Clippers win Friday or Saturday in Houston, combined with a Golden State loss would also give the Clippers their first 50-win season in franchise history and also clinch their first ever division title.
It’s the kind season that would be considered a dream season for the Clippers a couple of years ago but the expectations for this team has changed, and as delusional as that might sound, this team’s goals should be higher than that heading into the playoffs.