Clippers-Mavericks preview: Taking on the Clipvericks

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

The Clippers have won three straight since Chauncey Billups returned to the lineup and will look to make it four in a row tonight against the Mavericks.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season
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11-6

8-9
December 5th, 2012, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, ESPN, KFWB 980 AM
Buy Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Derek Fisher
Chauncey Billups SG O.J. Mayo
Caron Butler SF Jae Crowder
Blake Griffin PF Shawn Marion
DeAndre Jordan C Chris Kaman
Advanced Stats through games of Dec. 4
91.8 (16th of 30) Pace 94.0 (3rd of 30)
109.2 (4th of 30) ORtg 103.9 (16th of 30)
103.0 (10th of 30) DRtg 105.2 (19th of 30)
Injuries
Grant Hill (knee) out
Dirk Nowitzki (knee surgery) out
Trey Thompkins (knee) out

The Back Story:

First meeting of the regular season. The Clippers won the season series last year two games to one.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have been a streaky team this season. Two great wins, two bad losses, six straight wins, four straight losses. They're currently on a three game win streak and once again looking impressive as they did during their earlier win steak. They dominated Sacramento on Saturday and then went to Utah and handed the Jazz their first home loss despite being outshot by 10 percentage points. Chauncey Billups is back, the turnovers are down, Blake Griffin is going into beast mode, and even Lamar Odom is beginning to look like a player. Of course, just about the time we start to rave about the Clippers is when they'll go into another swoon. So let's just say they suck and see how that works.

The Antagonist:

Monday night in Utah the Clippers faced a familiar backcourt. Tonight in L.A. they will face an even more familiar, if somewhat less recent, frontcourt. Former Clippers Chris Kaman and Elton Brand found themselves free agents this summer (Brand after being an amnesty casualty in Philadelphia) and they wound up signing together in Dallas. It's a long-awaited reunion for the pair; unfortunately, also long after Brand's prime, and likely on the downside of Kaman's career also. Kaman and Brand were part of an on-the-fly rebuild in Dallas, a team just 18 months removed from winning a title. Gone from that championship team are Tyson Chandler, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd among others. The Mavs had the money to add Dwight Howard and/or Deron Williams this summer, but missed out on both of them, at which point they signed Kaman and Brand and O.J. Mayo and traded for Darren Collison. But none of this really matters for one very simple reason -- Dirk Nowitzki is hurt. Nowitzki is the reason they won that title, and without him it's impossible to know what the current team is capable of. Nowitzki's knees were hurting in camp and he finally had to have surgery. He has yet to be cleared for any basketball activity, although by the original estimates he could be back soon (more on that later). The Mavs are 8-9 -- but seven of the eight wins have come against sub-.500 teams. In fact, only 3 of their 17 games so far have come against teams over .500, a strength of schedule 26th in the league. Mayo has been great and Kaman has been very good -- but without Nowitzki, this is a team going nowhere.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers remain near the top of the league in offensive efficiency and are top 10 in defensive efficiency. That's a very impressive resume. The Mavs on the other hand are a little below average on both offense and defense this season.
  • Clippers with Billups. The Clippers were 14-6 through 20 games with Chauncey Billups in the lineup last season. They are 3-0 with him this season. That's a record of 17-6, a winning percentage of .739, when Billups plays for the Clippers. His numbers as a Clipper have been nothing special -- but you can't argue with the results.
  • L.A. Connections. A startling number of new Mavericks have major connections to Los Angeles basketball. Kaman and Brand are of course best known as Clippers. Collison played high school ball at Etiwanda and played four years at UCLA (where he was a teammate of Clipper Ryan Hollins for one season). O.J. Mayo played professional basketball at USC. And now the Mavs have signed longtime Laker point guard Derek Fisher for some reason.
  • Kaman and Brand in L.A. As every good citizen of Clips Nation well knows, Kaman and Brand were the starting bigs on the Clippers' 2006 playoff team. They started together in L.A. for four full seasons during which time Brand was a monster (a two time All Star and second team All NBA in 2006) and Kaman was coming into his own. Kaman 2.0 emerged in 2007-2008 -- unfortunately while Brand was out all season after rupturing his Achilles in the offseason (in a one-on-one duel with Kaman of course). As Kaman's game developed, citizens dreamed of pairing him with a healthy Brand -- but it never happened. Brand returned for eight games at the end of the 07-08 season while Kaman was injured, and then FElton bolted for Philadelphia that summer. Kaman went on to make an All Star team himself as a Clipper in 2010, but Clipper fans never got to see the All Star bigs together. The old friends are now reunited in Dallas and it will be strange to see them playing together on the Clippers court wearing a different uniform.
  • Beaubois. What happened to this guy? For one playoff series and a summer league he looked like he was going to be a star. Now in his fourth season, he's never come close to his rookie productivity. A broken foot while practicing with Team France prior to his second season derailed his career. Still, I'm not sure that a broken foot explains his shooting numbers. As a rookie he posted a true shooting percentage of .617; he has never been above .500 in TSP for a season since. Those numbers are night and day -- .617 is incredibly good, and sub .500 is incredibly bad. It may simply be that his rookie season, consisting of just 700 minutes, was an outlier and that he's actually a bad shooter. At any rate, he has fallen so far on the Mavs depth chart that he was on the INACTIVE list last game. I'm not talking DNP-CD; I'm talking DNP-PHWST (perfectly healthy but wearing a suit and tie).
  • The disastrous Free Agent class of 2008. With Brand in town it's impossible not to think about the summer of 2008, when every free agent signing was a complete disaster. The big money signings -- Brand, Baron Davis, Corey Maggette, Gilbert Arenas -- have all been atrocious, with three of those guys having been amnestied and Maggette traded approximately 37 times in the last four years. Some of the lesser signings included DeSagana Diop, Beno Udrih, Chris Duhon and James Posey. It's very difficult to find a multi-year signing from that summer where a free agent changed teams that worked out. Think about it: what if the Clippers had actually gotten what they wanted that summer and were paying Brand and Davis about $40M this season?
  • Dirk. Dirk underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on October 19. At the time the Mavericks were saying it would be six weeks until he could resume basketball activities. We're currently into week seven since the surgery and Dirk has not yet been cleared. This isn't overly surprising. The guy is 34 years old and it would be unwise to rush him back. But it's frustrating for Nowitzki to be out, and disastrous for the team. The hole isn't too deep at this point, but the soft schedule is going to turn at some point.
  • Mayo. Seems like a change of scenery is doing wonders for O.J. Mayo. His first couple of seasons in Memphis he was being groomed as a star, as their lead scorer and a guy they would build around. Then he fell out of favor, was moved to the bench, and allowed to sign elsewhere this summer (Memphis doesn't seem to miss him). He has been rejuvenated in Dallas, where he is having by far the best season of his career so far. Of course he can't continue to hit three pointers at the rate they're falling right now -- his career percentage was .375 coming into the season, but he's currently second in the league at .527 and has made more threes than anyone not named Ryan Anderson. So he's a guy the Clippers might want to find on the perimeter.
  • Fisher over Collison? Not having watched the Mavs much it's hard to say whether it really makes sense, but the idea of starting Derek Fisher over Darren Collison seems completely ludicrous. Fisher is 38 and has been pretty terrible for the last several seasons. Collison is 25 and has shown real promise at times. So why bother to sign the out of the league Fisher to insert him into the starting lineup? Collison was understandably unhappy about losing his job, but the real question is why Rick Carlisle thinks Fisher is a viable NBA starter at this point. He hasn't been that for a very long time now.
  • Chris Paul notes. Two Chris Paul notes regarding Collison and Fisher. (1) Collison was Paul's backup for a season in New Orleans and did a fine job while Paul was hurt. (2) Paul made a habit of torturing the Lakers in recent years, in large part because Fisher couldn't come close to guarding him.
  • Waking the beast. Blake Griffin has had a relatively quiet start, but it got a little louder Monday night in Utah. He posted his first 30 point game of the season, and for the first time in a while really attacked the basket. He made 14-20 from the field and carried the Clippers in the early going. Is that the start of a tear for Blake Superior?
  • Crowder to start? The Mavs recently moved Brand to the bench and inserted rookie Jae Crowder in the starting lineup. Crowder is one of those "energy" players (guys with pony tails almost always are, don't ask me why), but he's only 6'6. With the 6'7 Shawn Marion at the other forward, handling Griffin's size could be a problem (though Marion has a ton of experience defending fours). It's an option to move Brand back into the starting lineup to deal with the Clippers' size.
  • Kaman vs. Jordan. This will be the most interesting matchup of the game by far. For his first two seasons, Jordan was Kaman's backup. His third season he started while Kaman was hurt most of the year. They are very different centers. Kaman is incredibly skilled, and Jordan is incredibly athletic. But most people make the assumption that the somewhat doofus-y looking Kaman is unathletic, which is not true. He certainly doesn't have Jordan's explosiveness, but he's got great agility and surprising quickness. He's also a very good defender. It stands to reason that each of these guys will have a little extra motivation going against each other. It will be interesting to see who gets the better of this matchup. Jordan's stock is pretty high right now, but I've always believed that Kaman is the better basketball player.
  • The future in Dallas. The Mavericks have managed to be a top franchise for the entirety of Nowitzki's career so far, but the window may have closed. They cleared the books to try to sign some big names this summer but whiffed. They got Kaman and Brand to sign one year deals so they can try again next summer, with visions of perhaps teaming Chris Paul with Nowitzki (Tim McMahon wrote Tuesday the Mavs are "among the teams who hope to sign [Paul]" this summer). But why would Chris Paul choose to play next to a 35 year old ailing Nowitzki over a 24 year old Griffin? And who else are they going to get? Another run at Howard?
  • Turnovers. With just 25 turnovers in their last three games the Clippers are getting back to taking care of the ball like they did last season. It's strange that turnovers have been such a problem for the team this season with Paul at the helm, but since Chauncey Billups has been back things have been much better on that front.
  • Lamar Odom. The Clippers acquired Odom from the Mavericks this summer in a four team trade. Odom spent one disastrous season in Dallas -- he was terrible, and it got so bad that owner Mark Cuban kicked him off the team near the end of the season. Cuban goes to every game with his team but don't expect him to be hugging Lamar tonight. Odom is looking better and better as a Clipper. Of course, expectations are everything. His start in L.A. hasn't been statistically any better than he played in Dallas last season. He still can't shoot to save his life. But the Clippers can afford to be patient, and the expectations for early season Lamar were pretty low, so he's getting the chance to work his way back into form. He never got there in Dallas, presumably because his heart wasn't in it. Will he get there this year?
  • Get the Dallas perspective at Mavs Moneyball.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Nighthawk Postcards -- Tom Waits

    there's a blur drizzle down the plateglass
    as a neon swizzle stick stirrin up the sultry night air
    and a yellow biscuit of a buttery cue ball moon
    rollin' maverick across an obsidian sky
    as the busses go groanin' and wheezin',
    down on the corner I'm freezin';
    on a restless boulevard at a midnight road
    I'm across town from EASY STREET


    I don't listen to Tom Waits. I like the idea of Tom Waits, I really do. I just never developed the habit. And yes, Tom Waits is a habit.
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