Clippers Vs. Mavericks - Game Preview - The Final Playoff Push

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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31-21

30-23
American Airlines Center
February 13th, 2012, 5:30 PM
FS West, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Jason Kidd
Randy Foye SG Vince Carter
Caron Butler
SF Shawn Marion
Blake Griffin
PF Dirk Nowitzki
DeAndre Jordan
C Brendan Haywood

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers took care of their business at home last week, sweeping a five game home stand to re-establish their position in the Western Conference playoff race. Winning in Dallas in April against the defending champs is an entirely different matter. The Clippers currently hold a game and a half lead (two games in the loss column) over the Mavericks for fourth place in the West. Oh, and as seems to always be the case lately, the teams have split their first two meetings, so the winner of this game will hold the head-to-head tie-breaker. That makes this game worth essentially three games in the standings. A Clippers win, and they have the equivalent of a four game lead on the Mavs -- lose, and the lead is down to one. If the two teams maintain their positioning in the West, then they'll meet in the first round of the playoffs, the team with the better record having home court advantage for the series. So the irony is, if the Clippers can prove that they can beat the Mavericks in Dallas tonight, then they will go a long way towards securing the home court and not needing to be able to beat them there in the playoffs -- but if they lose, then they risk losing that advantage, which they'll probably need. Of course, the Clippers are also chasing the Lakers for third (and the Pacific Division title), so beating Dallas is also about staying on pace with the Lakers with a chance to catch them in the Battle of LA Wednesday. So yeah, these next three days are huge. The Clippers will probably go as far in these big games as Chris Paul can carry them. Paul didn't play in the first meeting with Dallas, and took only 10 shots in the second one. He'll need to be more aggressive in this one -- and he probably will. He knows how big this is.

The Antagonist:

The Mavericks have been on a roller coaster ride even more extreme than the Clippers own adventure -- since basically the exact same time. A Mavs loss to Jeremy Lin and the Knicks on February 19 started Dallas on a series of 9 losses in 12 games. The Mavs were 20-11 prior to that game. The Clippers were 19-9 when they lost the 'inbound pass to the backcourt violation' game against the Spurs on February 18. That loss began a stretch of 12 losses in 19 games for LA. But just like the Clippers, the Mavs have turned it around again, winning 7 of their last 10. Injuries have been part of the problem for Dallas, as starting center Brendan Haywood and key reserve Delonte West have been hurt, but the issues seem to go beyond that. At any rate, Haywood and West are now back and the Mavs are almost completely healthy (although Lamar Odom is ill and is doubtful for tonight's game). It should be noted that the Mavs were the third seed last year, and no one really expected much out of them heading into the playoffs -- all they did was win the NBA title. The team is loaded with talented veterans, and Dirk Nowitzki can carry an offense for long stretches. Although they're older and are missing a couple of key guys from last year's championship squad, this is still a dangerous team.

The Subplots

  • Tonight's Special Guest Recapper. Yours truly.
  • The Questionable Blogger. Be sure to check out this weeks Questionable Blogger, with andytobo from the Dallas blog Mavs Moneyball. You can also read my answer to his questions over there.
  • Key Mavs Metrics
    Pace: 91.7 (11th of 30 NBA teams)
    Off Rtg: 102.6 (23rd of 30)
    Def Rtg: 101.1 (6th of 30)
  • Key Clippers Metrics
    Pace: 88.9 (28th of 30)
    Off Rtg: 108.2 (5th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 106.0 (21st of 30)
    It's the Clippers' good offense and bad defense against the Mavs' good defense and bad offense.
  • Marion on Paul. The last time they played, the Mavericks defended Chris Paul with Shawn Marion. Marion's size and length kept Paul under wraps, and he scored just 16 points. He only managed to get off 10 shots, and he also had 5 turnovers. Whether or not Paul can find some freedom facing Marion will be absolutely key to this game.
  • Similar seasons. How similar have the seasons for these two teams been? Well, since the last time they met, which was seven weeks ago, the Clippers are 14-13, while the Mavs are 13-12. When they met before, the Clippers were 1.5 games ahead Dallas in the standings, and they're still 1.5 games ahead of them in the standings. For the full season, both the Clippers and the Mavs have 11 road wins and 8 home losses.
  • Eerily similar. The recent Dallas slump included a one point loss to New Jersey, a loss in New Orleans and a loss to Golden State. Why does that sound familiar?
  • Foye or Young? Vince Carter, the Mavericks starter at shooting guard, is 6'6", and unlike many guards his size, he actually knows how to post up. The Clippers have been on their five game winning streak with Randy Foye starting at the two, with Nick Young in the bench scorer roll -- partly due to the injury to Mo Williams. But Carter was able to post up Foye in the first meeting and will likely do so again tonight. The Clippers might consider starting Young to defend Carter, or if not, at least bring him off the bench quickly if Carter gets going early. The Mavericks of course will have Jason Terry on the floor a lot as well, so it's really just at the beginning of halves where Carter will be a mismatch at the two.
  • The losing streak. The Clippers losing streak in Dallas stands at 10 going back to 2006, but really it goes back to 2003 in games that matter. The last Clippers win in Big D came in the final regular season game of 2006. Both teams were getting ready for the playoffs and resting their regulars in that game -- Boniface N'Dong got the start, so obviously it shouldn't count. You have to go back 14 games to get to a Clippers win in Dallas that meant anything.
  • Speaking of streaks. The Clippers win over the Mavs in LA in January ended a 10 game overall losing streak against the Mavs. Wouldn't it be nice to end both the overall losing streak and the road losing streak in the same season? They could add it to the list of streaks ended this season -- losses in Utah, losses in San Antonio, losses in Orlando... this is one of the last big ones. (The losing streak at Cleveland is also 10, which is absurd when you consider the last two seasons, but whatever. The losing streak at New Orleans stands at 9.)
  • Team defense. People ask me if the Clippers are capable of playing better defense, or if perhaps their personnel precludes it, and I usually reference the Mavericks. When Dallas was a top 10 (eighth to be precise) defense last season, everyone pointed to Tyson Chandler as the reason. Guess what? Chandler is gone, and the Mavs are even better defensively this season (sixth to be precise). But look at their personnel. Is Dirk Nowitzki a great individual defender? Vince Carter? Jason Kidd was once among the best, but he's 39 years old for FSM's sake. Other than Shawn Marion (who's 33 himself), do the Mavericks have a plus on ball defender among their starters? And yet, they are among the best defensive teams in the league. Why? Because team defense is about having a system, understanding the system, buying into it, and working hard. Rick Carlisle has the Mavs doing all those things. Don't tell me the Clippers can't be a terrific defensive team with the proper system and a lot of effort.
  • Remaining schedule. The Clippers and the Mavs will no doubt be battling for the fourth spot for a while. Even if the Mavs win tonight, the Clippers will maintani a half game lead (in the all-important loss column), though Dallas will hold the tie breaker. After tonight, the Mavs have 12 games remaining; 7 of the 12 are on the road; 7 of 12 are against teams above .500, and an eighth is at Portland, a very good home team. The Clippers will have 13 games left, with 8 of 13 road and 7 of 13 against teams above .500 teams (plus tough road games at Phoenix and at Minnesota).
  • Defending Dirk. The Clippers can throw multiple defenders at Dirk Nowitzki tonight. Blake Griffin will get the initial assignment, but you can expect Kenyon Martin to spend a lot of time on Dirk, and Reggie Evans will take a turn as well.
  • Defending Blake. If I recall correctly, the Mavericks like to stick the big and long Brendan Haywood on Blake. Griffin will need to use his quickness on Haywood. One good strategy will be to involve him in the pick and roll. If Paul can get the switch, he can abuse Haywood.
  • One dimensional Kidd. Despite the two D's in his last name, there's only 1D to Jason Kidd's scoring these days. He's taken 237 shots this season -- 194 of them have been three pointers. He's one of five players in the NBA this season for whom three point attempts make up at least 80% of their shot attempts. Only Steve Novak has shot more of the one dimensional guys -- but Novak is making 47% compared to 33% for Kidd.
  • 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 troubles. Lamar Odom has had a rough year. He didn't like hearing his name in the vetoed Chris Paul trade, and was so upset that he decided he could no longer play for the Lakers. He asked to be traded, they obliged, and he wound up on Dallas. But maybe it's just that he can no longer play ... period. Odom has been dreadful this season, setting career lows in just about everything, one year after setting career highs in just about everything. Among NBA players who have played at least 900 minutes, he's got the worst true shooting percentage in the league. The drama this season has included a rumor he might be bought out, and another that he might be sent to the D-League. Through it all, the Mavs maintain hope that his length and experience will be useful in the playoffs. Good luck with that. (As I mentioned above, Odom is doubtful for this game with an illness.)
  • 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 after this year. The master plan took a hit last month, when Dwight Howard waived his ETO for next season, meaning he won't be a free agent this summer, so Cuban's dreams of signing Deron Williams and Howard to place alongside Dirk won't come to fruition this summer. Williams, a Dallas native, is still a strong possibility. But other than Nowitzki, who else will be on the team? Regardless or exactly what happens, we can safely assume that the Mavericks will look very different next season.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    maverick

    A poker term for playing (or going all in) without looking at your cards.

    I'm going maverick on the next hand and I don't care if I lose.
  • Get the Mavericks perspective at Mavs Moneyball.
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