Clippers vs. Dallas - Game Preview

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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7-4

8-6
STAPLES Center
January 18th, 2012, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, ESPN, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chauncey Billups
PG Jason Kidd
Randy Foye SG Delonte West
Caron Butler
SF Shawn Marion
Blake Griffin
PF Dirk Nowitzki
DeAndre Jordan
C Tyson Chandler
Brendan Haywood

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The Mavericks swept four meeting last season.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers suffered their worst and most embarrassing defeat of the season last night against the Jazz in Salt Lake City. I'm not suggesting that it was a strategy to tank that game and conserve their energy for the home crowd back in Staples tonight, but if they beat the Mavs, then it will all have paid off. I mean, no one really expected them to sweep a back-to-back-to-back, right? The real question is whether they'll have Chris Paul back (and to a lesser extent, Mo Williams). The starters should be able to hang with most teams even without them (although that certainly wasn't in evidence Tuesday), but the bench becomes a joke. The good news about a loss as bad as the one the Clippers suffered in Utah is that you don't really have to agonize over it. They got thrashed, it's over, move on. Hopefully they'll have much more energy in front of the home crowd tonight (last night they looked like they were playing in mud, but that can happen to a sea level team on a one day trip above 4000 feet).

The Antagonist:

The Mavericks started the season with three straight losses, and looked nothing like the team that stormed through the playoffs to their first NBA championship last summer. They've played better since, winning 8 of their last 11, but they still don't seem quite right. They lost some key pieces during the summer -- Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson to be specific -- and depending upon your perspective, either damaged the chemistry of the team irrevocably, or forced it into a period of adjustment. The Mavs will always be built around Dirk Nowitzki, but there's no denying that there was something magical about the group from last season. Whether they can recapture that magic with a different group remains to be seen. Regardless, this would appear to be the last gasp for this group - of the core group, only Dirk, Shawn Marion and Brendan Haywood are signed beyond this season. They lost an ugly game to the Lakers on Monday night when Derek Fisher hit a three pointer with 3 seconds left.

The Subplots

  • [Note by Steve Perrin, 01/18/12 4:53 PM PST ] According to Brad Turner of the LA Times, Mo Willians is probably in while Chris Paul is definitely out for this game. The addition of Williams helps the Clippers bench a lot, but the offense has been a bit of a mess without Paul, particularly last night in Utah.
  • [Note by Steve Perrin, 01/18/12 2:12 PM PST ] Dirk has the sniffles. Dirk Nowitzki skipped Dallas' shootaround this morning because of a cold. Coach Rick Carlisle is hopeful he'll play, and I think we can assume that he will, but it remains to be seen how much energy he has to chase Blake Griffin. Vince Carter is out of this game after spraining his ankle against the Lakers. He's already back in Dallas.
  • Strength of Schedule. According to the strength of schedule metric on basketball-reference, through games of Monday, the Clippers had played the third toughest schedule in the NBA, and the Mavericks had played the 17th toughest. Moreover, since the Western Conference is the better conference, and the unbalanced schedule pits teams against their own conference with greater frequency (especially this lockout season), 15 of the 18 toughest schedules belong to West teams. In other words, Dallas has had the second easiest schedule of West teams so far. That becomes clear when you look at their five game win streak that ended Monday - all five wins were against teams at least four games under .500. In fact, the Mavs are 7-0 against teams with losing records this year, 1-5 against teams with winning records.
  • Road team rested. The Mavericks are on game two of a four game road trip, but they should be the better rested team tonight. They've been in LA for three days, after playing the Lakers Monday night. Meanwhile, the Clippers are playing the third game of a back-to-back-to-back, which is tough enough, but the NBA schedule makers decided to make it that much tougher by scheduling the middle game in Salt Lake City, almost 700 miles away.
  • Third game in three days. For the Clippers, they are completing the first of two B2B2Bs this season. They already looked exhausted last night in Utah, which could bode well (they didn't exert any effort and so they'll be relatively fresh tonight all things considered) or very, very badly (they were truly exhausted already, and are even more so now after a return flight from Utah and a late night).
  • Losing streak. The Clippers ended two long losing streaks last season - beating New Orleans after 14 straight losses, and the Spurs after 18 straight. The didn't come close to ending Utah's home dominance last night. But they have a chance to end another streak tonight. The Mavs have beaten the Clippers 10 straight times overall - the longest active losing streak for the Clippers. After ending a couple of streaks last year, it's time to end some more this year.
  • What Dallas lost. Chandler would seem to be the key loss for the Mavs. He was the anchor of their top ten rated defense. Paradoxically though, it is the offense that has let them done so far this year. The defensive efficiency is actually third in the NBA so far, but the offensive efficiency is way down at 22nd. At least part of that drop off is Nowitzki, who is having a slow start to the season. But one suspects that he'll be fine in the long run.
  • Getting old. Seven of the nine players in Dallas' rotation are over 30, including their top four scorers. Given a chance to get younger this summer, their primary additions were Vince Carter (35) and Lamar Odom (32). Lottery picks of the 90s are well represented on the Mavs lineup, including the 2nd overall pick in 1994 (Kidd), the 5th and 9th picks from 1998 (Carter and Nowitzki) and the 4th, 9th and 10th picks from 1999 (Odom, Marion and Jason Terry). In 1994 when Jason Kidd was drafted, a five year old Blake Griffin was the first pick of his Oklahoma pre-school.
  • Odom's slow start. We all know the story of how former Clipper Lamar Odom wound up in Dallas. When the Lakers proposed trade for Chris Paul fell through, Lamar got his knickers in a twist over being shopped and asked to be traded out of LA. The Lakers obliged, and sent him to Dallas for a first round pick and a trade exception. But apparently Lamar needed a little more time to get over the whole trauma, because he's been terrible so far. He's shooting 31 percent overall, 21 percent from three so far this season.
  • Cuban's strategy. Mark Cuban and the Mavericks are trying to thread the needle as they transition to a new era in Dallas. They got their championship last year; then they allowed players like Chandler and Barea to leave, at least in part because they did not want to take on any long term salary. Neither Odom nor Carter are fully guaranteed for next season, leaving Nowitzki, Marion and Haywood as the only big contracts on the books next season. The could amnesty Haywood and presumably dump Marion and free up a ton of cap space, which they would use to pursue Deron Williams (a Dallas native) and Dwight Howard. It's a bold strategy, one that leaves this season's team in a bit of limbo, but it could pay off big time.
  • No Barea. J.J. Barea has absolutely destroyed the Clippers over the years. It's bizarre to say, but I feel like his absence is the primary reason that the Clippers have a good chance to win this game.
  • Beaubois Schmeaubois. At the end of his rookie campaign two seasons ago, Roddy Beaubois came on strong and was decreed the solution at two guard for the Mavs, not to mention a star in waiting. He was one of the more talked about players in the 2010 Summer League (where frankly, he had some great games and some terrible games). Then he broke his foot before last season started and missed the first 54 games. Since he's been back, he's been anything but a star, either last year or this year. Whether it's a matter of getting back into a rhythm after the injury, or perhaps a case of a guy who was never really as good as he looked in a couple of games in April 2010, we'll just have to wait and see.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    maverick

    n. The only word Sarah Palin can use to describe John McCain.

    "John McCain's a Maverick!"
  • Get the Mavericks perspective at Mavs Moneyball.
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