|American Airlines Center|
|Dec. 21, 2007 - 6:30 PM|
|Brevin Knight||PG||Devin Harris|
|Richie Frahm||SG||Eddie Jones|
|Corey Maggette||SF||Josh Howard|
|Tim Thomas||PF||Dirk Nowitzki|
|Chris Kaman||C||Erick Dampier|
Sadly, despite all of the losing in the last 6 weeks (5-15 since beginning the season 4-0), the Clippers have played surprisingly few road games against top teams. Losses at Detroit and at Phoenix were the only road games in the first 24 against the league's elite. That all changes tonight when they play the Mavs in Dallas, followed by a trip to San Antonio Saturday night and another trip to Phoenix next Friday. Three road games against the best of the west in 8 days. It could get ugly. With Sam Cassell still out with a strained calf, the Texas two-step figures to be particularly difficult. The Clippers, the second worst shooting team in the NBA, simply don't have enough offense to be competitive without Cassell - they probably couldn't compete in Dallas even with him, but it's just not going to happen without him.
The Mavs had the best regular season record in the NBA last season, and despite a period of lackluster play earlier this month, they appear to be back on track again. If defending MVP Dirk Nowitzki is not having as strong a season, Josh Howard is more than making up for it. Howard, not Nowitzki, is actually leading the team in scoring, as hard as that is to believe. With strong play from Jason Terry, Devin Harris and Jerry Stackhouse, this is a very difficult team to matchup with. Still, they've proven over the last two playoffs that they are not invincible. The book used to be to crowd Nowitzki with a smaller, quicker player, and dare someone else to beat you. So now that Howard is becoming their best player, what happens to that book?
- Matchups. None of them are good, and almost none of them favor the Clippers on either end. Even Kaman 2.0 could have trouble with the size and length of Erick Dampier and Desagana Diop. Meanwhile, there's no one for Tim Thomas to guard, and when the Mavs play Terry, Harris and Howard together, the Clippers don't really have enough guys on their roster to cover the perimeter (and the ones they do have can't shoot).
- Expectations Management. The Clippers are going to lose this game. So we have to look for positive developments along the way. Can they take care of the ball? Can Kaman make good decisions against the double team and finish his shots? Can they run good sets? Can Richie Frahm continue to stretch the defense? Can Corey Maggette have a strong game, and how will he do defending Howard?
- Mobley still listed as questionable. Cuttino Mobley is still listed as questionable for this game with a stomach virus that kept him out of Tuesday's game and limited him in last Sunday's game. Which begs the question, how miserable must he be right now? A stomach virus is a nightmare when it last 24 hours. This started 5 days ago! Something ain't right.
- Thornton and Davis. In the category of 'Tough road game as learning experience' no one has more to learn than rookie Al Thornton and second year player Paul Davis. Let's hope they both get a lot of minutes tonight (Aaron Williams is also questionable, so Davis figures to play at least the backup center minutes) and that they can do something positive.
- Payback will have to wait. This is the first meeting between these two teams since Avery Johnson sat all of his regulars in a key late season meeting with the Warriors. Had the Mavericks between the Warriors in that game, the Clippers would have been able to qualify for the playoffs with one more win. Of course, Karma already paid back Johnson with a humiliating unprecedented first round loss to the eighth seeded Warriors - but someday when the Clippers are full strength, I'm sure LA would like to pay him back themselves. Coincidentally, the Clippers will field a lineup very similar tonight to the one Avery used against the Warriors.
- National TV Tonight. For the first time this season, the Clippers will be on National TV. The ESPN audience will get to hear the announcers feeling sorry for our team - talking about all the injuries. Or worse yet, they'll over-simplify to the facile "The Clippers are once again 9-15 like they're supposed to be." There's very little good that comes of being on National TV. Some people will get to see the new Kaman that might not otherwise. That's about it.