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Clippers vs. Mavericks - Game Preview and Open Thread

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vs.
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0-5 3-2
Staples Center
November 9, 2008 - 12:30 PM
TV: KTLA, Channel 5
Probable starters:
Baron Davis PG Jason Kidd
Cuttino Mobley SG Jerry Stackhouse
Al Thornton SF Josh Howard
Marcus Camby PF Dirk Nowitzki
Chris Kaman C Erick Dampier

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are now 0-6, extending their worst start in a decade. But, if you're looking for the silver lining, at least they didn't lose by double digits against the Rockets on Friday - that would have tied an NBA record for six straight season opening losses by 10 or more. (Of course, an OT loss in which you are outscored by 10 in the extra period should hardly count as a double digit loss, but I digress.) Beyond the final margin, there were definitely other encouraging signs in the Clippers performance against Houston. Chris Kaman and Baron Davis each had season highs of 23, and showed some flashes of on court synergy. And the team competed deep into the fourth period for the first time this season - they had a chance to cut the lead to 3 in the final 2 minutes but Kaman's strong lefty hook just trickled out. Of course, it can't all be good news in Clips Nation, and Tim Thomas will be out of this game and a few more because of a sprained ankle suffered Friday night.

The Antagonist:

The playoffs are the ultimate zero sum game. Eight teams qualify for the post season in each conference, and if you didn't make it one year, you have to hope that one of the teams that did has some sort of drop off the following season to open up one of those spots. That's especially true this season, since all 8 Western Conference playoff teams won at least 50 games. The Mavericks are one of the trendy picks to suffer just such a drop off. After acquiring Jason Kidd in a February trade for Devin Harris and a bunch of other stuff, Dallas proceeded to play .500 ball down the stretch, and they were eliminated in the first round for the second straight season. Acquiring Kidd looked dubious at the time, and looks much worse now. These are talented players to be sure. But several of them are on the downhill side of their careers, and I guess the question for Mavs' fans is exactly how far down the hill they are. Four Mavs starters and 5 of their top 6 players are over 30 with at least 10 seasons in the league. Make no mistake - this is the last chance for this group. They're 2-3 on the young season. They did manage a road win in San Antonio, but of course the Spurs have some problems of their own right now, especially with Ginobili out. The Mavericks have a new coach in former Pistons and Pacers head man Rick Carlisle - but so far they've been a little slow to pick up his schemes, according to the Dallas Morning News.

The Subplots

  • The four spot. Entering the season, there were questions about how Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby, both centers last season, would fit together in the same starting lineup. Camby's only played in 3 of the 6 games, and his minutes have been limited thus far, so the jury's still out. But exhibit A for the prosecution is the way opposing power forwards have been lighting up the Clippers. Paul Millsap of the Jazz had a career night last Monday. Luis Scola and Carl Landry combined for 34 points and 16 rebounds on Friday. Despite his DPOY bona fides, Camby has never in fact been a great on-the-ball defender - he much prefers to roam the weak side looking for blocked shots. And Kaman, while very athletic for a player his size, lacks the lateral quickness to guard many quicker fours. Which begs the question: Who will guard Dirk Nowizki?
    The short answer: Cat Mobley. At the opening tip, it will probably be Kaman opposite his Mannschaft Deutschland freund Dirk. MDsr tended to put Kaman on Dirk even in the Brand-Kaman era. BUT... in recent years teams have had much more success defending Nowitzki with smaller players - Bruce Bowen, Tracy McGrady, etc. And by far the most effective defender the Clippers have used against him is Cat Mobley. Despite giving up 7 inches or so, Cat effectively crowds Dirk and bothers his shots. And since Nowitzki is not a great post up player, he's not able to make opponents pay for using 2's and 3's against him. This all implies a lot less of Kaman and Camby on the floor together, and a lot more of Al Thornton at the four. In that sense, it's not a bad game for Thomas to be out - if indeed Mobley spends significant chunks of time defending Dirk, the Clippers will want to play smaller. It also means extra minutes for either Ricky Davis (booo!) or Eric Gordon (yea!) at the shooting guard.
    Speaking of Eric Gordon. Rookie lottery pick Gordon got his first significant minutes of the season on Friday. He wasn't spectacular, and at times he looked like the 19 year old rookie he is - 37 year old Brent Barry picked him clean at a key moment in the second quarter. And the refs clearly know he's a rookie - in the fourth Barry pushed him out of bounds with no whistle, and then gave Barry the benefit of a dubious charge-block decision a little later. But this is all part of the NBA learning curve. What Gordon doesn't need to learn is how to score. He's got unlimited range and text book form on his jump shot (he made 1 of 2 threes Friday) and he attacks the rim ferociously as well. It remains to be seen if his 18 minute stint was a blip or a benchmark. But as we discussed above, if Cat slides to the three and Al slides to the four, there could be some extra minutes for EJ today.
    Josh Howard's wrist. The Mavs second best player, one time all star and full time trouble maker Josh Howard missed practice yesterday with a sore wrist. There's not a lot of info available, but as far as I know he's planning on playing. If he can't go, or if he's limited, it's a huge bonus for the Clippers. Howard has killed LA in recent years.
    Speaking of killing LA. The most brutal loss last season (in a season chock full of brutal losses) came at the hands of the Mavericks. The Clippers had the ball and a 2 point lead with about 26 seconds on the game clock. The Mavs chose not to foul, so at worst it seemed as if the Clippers could shoot at the shot clock buzzer and leave the Mavs with very little time to get a decent shot. Instead, Tim Thomas shot with 8 seconds on the game clock, the Mavs got the rebound, and set up the game winning three for Jerry Stackhouse. I guess the good news is that Thomas won't do that again today.
    Baron versus the Mavs. I think we all became Warriors fans for the 2007 playoffs. And we watched intently as Baron Davis led the 8th seeded Dubs to an unprecedented and decisive first round victory. That may have been the beginning of the end for the Mavs. Let's hope Baron can recreate a little of that magic today as a Clipper.
    Trending positive? We've been following this trend for a few games now. Through the first five games, the Clippers played well for a while, and then suffered a complete collapse at some point, usually in the second half. But they've hung in a little longer in each game. Friday against the Rockets, they had a devastating 4-19 stretch in the first quarter, and spent the rest of the game trying to dig out of a 15 point hole. So the good news is that they actually played a full game Friday. Now they just need to play a full game AND avoid digging themselves a hole.