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Clippers at Dallas - Game Preview and Open Thread

3-13 8-8
American Airlines Center
December 2, 2008 - 5:30 PM
TV: KTLA Channel 5
Probable starters:
Baron Davis PG Jason Kidd
Eric Gordon SG Gerald Green
Al Thornton SF Josh Howard
Zach Randolph PF Dirk Nowitzki
Marcus Camby C Erick Dampier

The Big Picture:

At the risk of sounding like a fan boy, it must be said that the Clippers have been playing better. Of course, the bar wasn't set particularly high. But after failing to be competitive for the first 6 games of the season, and then being embarrassed at home in consecutive games against weak division rivals in games 8 and 9, the team seems to be getting its act together. In their last seven games, they've won two and three others have come down to the final possession. So the team is improved-end-of-game-execution away from winning 5 of their last 7. On the other hand, they almost managed to give away one of the two wins, so they could just as easily be 1 and 6 during that span. So, better - yes. Good? We'll see. They've only played two games with new addition Zach Randolph. In the first one Z-Bo was terrible as he started 1 for 8, and the Clippers lost by 1. In the second, he was terrific, scoring 27 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, and the Clippers won by 1. Unfortunately, Baron Davis was sub-par for most of that win, although he did finish strong. Center Chris Kaman is resting his plantar fasciitis and will not play on the current road trip, so we're going to have to wait at least a little longer before we see the team at full strength (and used to playing together, etc, etc - it just never seems to end). The good news is the the Randolph trade now looks even better, at least for keeping the team competitive through Kaman's injury. How many teams can lose their starting center, and still put a former DPOY and a 20-10 guy on the floor?

The Antagonist:

We've discussed it many times on this blog - the playoffs are a zero-sum game. In order for someone to grab a seat at the playoff party, someone else has to vacate. So if 12-6 Portland is for real, then some team that made the playoffs last season is going to miss the playoffs this season. In the early going, that team looks like Dallas. They began the season 2 and 7, and among their losses was the Clippers first victory. They've gone 6 and 1 since then, but upon closer inspection it's not the most impressive run, with wins over the Knicks, Bobcats, Grizz, Pacers and Kings. The only winning team they've beaten was Houston, and they were playing without Yao. Bottom line is, the Mavs don't have a win against a full strength playoff team 20% of the way through the season. Of course, neither do the Clippers, so it figures to be a pretty good matchup. In the first game, Josh Howard sat out with a sprained ankle. He's missed the last few games as well, but he practiced yesterday and is probable for tonight's game. In the first meeting, Dirk Nowitzki was terrific with 33 points, but he got absolutely no help from his teammates. Jason Terry was particularly bad, shooting just 3 for 15 and missing some absolute gimmes along the way. Unfortunately for LA, they probably can't count on that kind of generosity from Terry tonight - he's averaging 26.6 ppg and shooting 54% in his last 5.

The Subplots

  • Matchups - Dallas on offense. Dirk Nowitzki is always a matchup nightmare, but I'm particularly perplexed as to how this is going to play out with the new new Clippers. The Clippers will probably start with Camby on Dirk and Z-Bo on Dampier. Zach gives away a lot of length to Dampier, but he should be able to lean on him. Dampier's not a big scoring threat, so if Randolph can just keep him off the boards, that's enough. On the other hand, Nowitzki is a very tough cover for Camby. And when Marcus goes to the bench, then what? I don't see Paul Davis or Brian Skinner defending him. Maybe Thornton? And then who do you put on Howard? At any rate, don't be surprised if Dallas' forwards go off on the Clippers tonight.
    Matchups - Clippers on offense. On the other end, Randolph could have a big game. He's much bigger than Dirk (by probably 20 or 30 pounds) and will make him work in the post if Dallas matches up that way. If they try to defend Zach with Dampier, Z-Bo can face up and either shoot his jumper or use his quickness advantage to get to the rim. Either way, I think it's the place to start the offense tonight. At the point guard, Jason Kidd has lost at least a step, and Baron Davis should be able to penetrate.
  • Road trip. This is an important trip for the Clippers. They've had the most home-friendly schedule in the NBA so far, with 11 of their first 16 games at home. Tonight begins a stretch of 9 roadies in the next 11, so the schedule is evening out in a hurry. The good news is there are winnable games on the trip - especially Friday and Saturday in Memphis and Minneapolis - the Clippers haven't seen very many bottom feeders on their schedule so far this season. The bad news is four games in five nights with travel and a banged up team. 3-1 on the trip might be too much to ask, but a win in Dallas is pretty crucial to achieving that. 1-3 would be bad, and 0-4 would be disastrous.
  • James Singleton. Former Clipper James Singleton has carved out some playing time in Dallas, and even got a few starts recently when Howard was out. Good for him. He's not lighting it up by any means, but it's nice to see him back in the league after suffering an ACL injury in Spain last year.
    Dallas trying to get above .500. The Mavs have not been above .500 this season. They're 8-8, and they're opening a 7 game home stand, so they're hoping that they change that soon, preferably tonight from their perspective. As an aside, this is the Clippers second consecutive game against a 2006 NBA Finalist with an 8-8 record to start the season. LA beat Miami, so that's a good sign, right?
  • Al Thornton. Thornton had his best game of the season against Miami, and that was playing against a great defender in Shawn Marion. He attacked the rim relentlessly rather than settling for his jump shot, and also hit the boards. He'll be facing Josh Howard in this one, who is terrific on both ends. Al needs to win this battle, or at least hold his own, for the Clippers to have a chance in this game.
  • Injury update. Kaman is out, and was not even expected to travel with the team on this trip, choosing to remain in LA to get treatment on his foot. In fact, it's now being called 'up to two weeks.' Ricky Davis is also out with tendinitis. Eric Gordon (hamstring) and Marcus Camby (foot) each came up gimpy near the end of the Miami game. Camby missed Tuesday's practice and Gordon was limited, according to Ramona Shelburne. Needless to say, it would be very difficult for the Clippers to overcome the loss of their top 2 centers and their top 2 shooting guards. So let's hope that Camby and Gordon can play and be effective.