Clippers-Mavericks preview: a very important trip

Stephen Dunn

After Denver and Memphis stumbled last night, the Clippers are back in third place in the Western Conference. How long they stay there will depend on the outcome of tonight's meeting with the Mavericks.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season
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48-22

34-36
March 26th, 2013, 6:30 PM
American Airlines Center
TNT, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Mike James
Willie Green SG O.J. Mayo
Caron Butler SF Shawn Marion
Blake Griffin PF Dirk Nowitzki
DeAndre Jordan C Brandan Wright
Advanced Stats through games of March 25
91.4 (18th of 30) Pace 94.5 (5th of 30)
110.1 (4th of 30) ORtg 106.0 (12th of 30)
102.9 (8th of 30) DRtg 106.6 (20th of 30)
Injuries
Chauncey Billups (groin) GTD
Rodrique Beaubois (hand surgery) out
Chris Paul (knee) probable

Ronny Turiaf (knee) probable

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

In the very tight race for third place in the Western Conference, the Clippers suddenly find themselves back in third place, percentage points ahead of the Nuggets, after both Denver and Memphis dropped road games last night. The Clippers can add to their lead -- or fall back into a tie in the loss column -- depending on their results against the Mavericks in Dallas tonight. The Clippers take a two game winning streak into Dallas, which doesn't sound like much until you realize that it's their first winning streak in the month of March. It seems that both Denver and Memphis have come back to earth now after incredibly hot spells, so hopefully third place is there for the taking. The current road trip may well determine whether they hold onto to the spot or not. With four games in five nights against mostly good teams, the Clippers need at least a split on the trip. Three wins would put them in the driver's seat for third -- three losses would undoubtedly put them in a hole. Chris Paul had a big game Saturday against the Nets despite a sore knee, and he'll need to be big again tonight. The Clippers can sweep the season series with Dallas for the first time in two decades with a win, and at the same time clinch the first winning road record in franchise history.

The Antagonist:

The Mavericks have won nine of their last 13 games, one of their best stretches of a mostly disappointing season, and now find themselves closer to a playoff spot than they have been for months. Given that Dallas has made a dozen consecutive postseason appearances (second longest active streak in the league) it would be news if they miss the playoffs this season. The bad news for the Clippers is that they still have something to play for with about three weeks left in the season -- if Utah hadn't fallen apart, the Mavericks might be thinking about saving Nowitzki's knees right about now, but instead they're growing their beards and pushing hard to catch the Lakers. Which means that getting a win tonight against the Clippers means a lot to them. One reason is because the Mavericks have been quite futile against the best teams in the West this season. Against the top five teams in the West, Dallas has just one win and 13 losses. Yikes. That includes two earlier losses to the Clippers of course. But they've got Shaw Marion back from injury and Dirk playing at a high level, and they've never missed the playoffs in the Mark Cuban era -- so don't count them out.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Mavericks are slightly better than the NBA average on offensive, slightly worse on defense. They give up a few tenths or a point more than they score every game. This is the profile of a mediocre team, which is what the Mavs have been this year. The Clippers on the other hand are creeping back up towards third in offensive efficiency, while maintaining a decent (if not as good as earlier in the season) defensive number.
  • Taking advantage. Both Denver and Memphis stumbled on the road last night, sending the Clippers into third place for the time being. They can either return the favor by losing in Dallas, putting the three rivals back on equal footing in the loss column, or they can take advantage by winning and stretching out the lead a bit.
  • The trip. The importance of this road trip really can't be overstated. When it's over, the Clippers will only have three more road games remaining, and only one two game trip. But with four games in five nights against three teams fighting for playoff position and the dangerous Hornets (who have helped the Clippers by beating the Nuggets and Grizzlies back-to-back), this trip could go very wrong, very quickly. Currently on two days rest and playing a Mavs team that has struggled against top teams all year, it's vital to get the trip off to a good start with a win tonight.
  • The sweep. The Mavericks have dominated the series with the Clippers for two decades. Before the Clippers grabbed a win last April, the Mavs had won ten straight in Dallas. But the Clippers can sweep the season series with a win tonight, as well as win their fourth in a row against Dallas. It's been 20 seasons since the Clippers swept the Mavs -- long before the Cuban/Nowitzki era.
  • Mavs clawing back into race. When the Mavs missed out on the huge free agents they wanted like Deron Williams and Dwight Howard, it more or less sealed their fate as being outside championship contention but most pundits still had them as a playoff team. Nowitzki then missed the first 27 games of the season, and the Mavs went 12-15 during that time, which seemed to indicate they'd be OK. After all, surely they'd be much better with Dirk than without him. But they're 22-21 with him, and they needed a 9-4 run just to get there. They're a long shot to make the playoffs still -- the Lakers hold a two game lead on them for the final spot -- but they're closer than it looked like they might get a month ago. Of course, even if they make the playoffs, they'll just get bounced in the first round.
  • The old guards. What does Rick Carlisle have against Darren Collison? On a team that is OLD, Collison seemed to be a nice infusion of youth when they acquired him in the offseason. And while it's clear that they needed help at point guard, it's hard to explain why Carlisle has seemed determined to replace Collison as the starter. First the Mavs acquired the 106 year old Derek Fisher (who then asked for his contract to be voided so he could spend more time with his family sign with a better team) and then they resurrected the career of the 37 year old Mike James. Yes, they needed another point guard -- but why bench Collison? I don't get it.
  • End of an era? A fairly remarkable streak is going to come to an end this season. For 12 seasons (the same 12 straight seasons the Mavs have made the postseason), Nowitzki has led Dallas in total points and in points per game. You have to go back to 1999-2000 when he was 21 for the last time a Maverick not name Dirk led the team (that Mav's name was Michael Finley). This season, owing in large part to all the games he missed, Nowitzki will clearly not lead the team in total points -- he's currently fourth at 678 points with Mayo leading the way with 1156 points. More shocking would be if Dirk didn't lead the team in points per game, which is also possible. Nowitzki is currently at 16.514 per game with Mayo right behind at 16.537.
  • Paul's knee. Chris Paul banged knees with an opposing guard for the second time this season in Saturday's win over Brooklyn when Keith Bogans set a nasty (and illegal) pick on Paul. Paul was clearly pretty upset about the pick, even as Bogans was apologizing. He left the game for a bit and returned later, hitting the game-clinching and-one and appearing to be fine. Word is that the knee did not swell up after the game, so hopefully he'll be good to go tonight, but the Clippers are calling him a game time decision.
  • Kaman. Former Clipper Chris Kaman is close to falling out of the rotation in Dallas. He was the starting center early in the season, and then missed a slew of games with a concussion. He had trouble getting cleared to play because he couldn't pass the cognitive test required by the league, which isn't very surprising knowing a bit about Kaman's cognitive processes. His brain is great -- but it's not like other people's brains. At any rate, he's had three games this month where he's logged fewer than 10 minutes, and one DNP-CD. Then again, he's also started about half the March games, so it's pretty hard to figure what's going on there. Against the Clippers' front court size, maybe Carlisle will start him.
  • Free agent Kaman. Kaman signed a one year deal in Dallas, and it hasn't worked out great for the Mavs -- not at $8M. He'll be a free agent this summer, and may have to settle for less. You know who could use a third big that can make a face up jumper? The Clippers. I'm mostly kidding -- I don't see this happening for a lot of reasons, money being the biggest one -- but Kaman would be an interesting fit in the Clippers front court.
  • Griffin mini-slump. Though he had been shooting 60% since February, Griffin has had two straight games in which he had struggled from the field. He's 6-20 for a total of just 18 points in the last two games. The Clippers clearly need him to be more of a factor than that on this trip.
  • Brand on Griffin. Maybe because he doesn't like being replaced as the best power forward in Clippers history, maybe for some other reason, but Elton Brand has always played Griffin very physically. When Brand was at Philadelphia, he pounded on Griffin, delivering several hard fouls in addition to just playing him physically in general. It's a factor to keep an eye on when Brand enters the game for the Mavs.
  • Matching up. The Mavericks front court presents matchup problems for teams. The Clippers don't generally like to defend Nowitzki with Griffin, and could decide to put Caron Butler on him or even DeAndre Jordan. Keep an eye on the assignment to start the game.
  • Three point shooting. The Mavericks shoot the sixth best three point percentage in the league at .376. James, Mayo, Nowitzki and Vince Carter are all hitting better than 40% from deep. This does not bode well for the Clippers who have been torched from deep too many times this season. They'll need to stay home on shooters and close out on shooters tonight.
  • Milestones. A win tonight rewrites the franchise record book in a couple of ways. No Clipper team has ever had a winning road record, and the next road win will be their 21st, assuring the team of a winning record away from home this season. A win also ties the franchise's single season win record with 49, equaling the high water mark set 40 years ago in Buffalo.
  • Connections. A startling number of 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. On the other side, Caron Butler played a season and a half for the Mavericks and was an injured member of their championship team. Lamar Odom had a short season (shortened by the NBA lockout and by his eventual dismissal from the team) in Dallas last year that he'd love to forget. Hollins played 27 regular season games and nine playoff games in Dallas in 2009 after being traded there from Charlotte. Collison and Paul were teammates in New Orleans during Collison's rookie season; the rookie actually started several games while Paul was injured that season. Shawn Marion and Grant Hill were teammates in Phoenix for one season before Marion was traded to Miami.
  • Get the Dallas perspective at Mavs Moneyball.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Can You Picture That? -- Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem

    All of us are winnin, pickin and a-grinnin, Lordy but I love to jam
    Jelly-belly gigglin, dancin and a-wigglin, honey that's the way I am!
    Lost my heart in Texas, Northern lights affect us, I keep it underneath my hat,
    Aurora Borealis, shinin down on Dallas! Can you picture that?
    Can you picture that?

    Can you picture? You gotta see it in your mind!
    Can you picture? You know it's quick and easy to find!
    Can you picture? You don't have to buy a frame!
    Can you picture? Can you picture that?
    Can you picture that?


    I'm not surprised that I had trouble finding good lyrics with "Mavericks" in them, but I was a little surprised at the relative dearth of decent "Dallas" lyrics. But as a guy who grew up with The Muppet Show, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem will always have a special place in my heart.
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