The Back Story:
After managing to lose to the short-handed Kings in LA Sunday afternoon, suddenly three or four spots in the draft order look within reach. I mean, those fools in Sacramento and New York and Indiana appear to actually be trying to win games. Seriously, it would be much better for all concerned for this Clippers team to finish out the season strong, but it may be too much to ask. It's very difficult to find adequate motivation when the games just don't really matter. The idea of winning a road game, any road game, let alone one in Texas, seems pretty preposterous at this point. In fact, the Clippers have lost ten straight away games, most of them by pretty wide margins. Chris Kaman has been more or less missing for almost three weeks now, and he runs into a pretty good center in Brendan Haywood tonight. Hopefully Kaman can find his focus again, and Baron Davis and Eric Gordon can each have big games. It will take all three of them stepping up to have a chance against the Mavs in Dallas.
The Mavericks have lost two in a row, which is probably bad news for the Clippers as they'll be pretty desperate for a win tonight. The good news I suppose is that the Mavs played last night in New Orleans and could be a little tired in this game. Until recently, Dallas had been the hottest team in basketball (seems like the Clippers face "the hottest team" in basketball every other game these days). They won 13 straight games from Feb. 17 to March 10. But they've come back to earth recently, losing 3 of their last 4. Maybe the honeymoon is over with new additions Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. Maybe they just cooled off. Who knows? Even with the former all star Butler on the team, Dallas' offense remains very dependent on Dirk Nowitzki. In fact, in his 16 games as a Maverick, Butler isn't even Dallas' second leading scorer, averaging a little less than Jason Terry at 16.5 points per game. But the team is 14-4 since he joined the team while the Wizards have now lost 11 in a row, so it seems like the trade is working out pretty well for the Mavs.
- Butler and Haywood. How must it feel to be Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood? A couple months ago you were part of the most dysfunctional team in the Eastern Conference, looking at a losing season and several embarrassing distractions for the organization. Now you're part of a Western Conference playoff team, with a shot at the second best record in the conference and poised to make a deep playoff run.
- Matching up. Kim Hughes told me last week that he doesn't like to play the matchup game. He wants to put his team out there, and make the other team match up to him. This game will be a tough test of that philosophy. Caron Butler starts at the shooting guard for the Mavs, and Shawn Marion starts at the small forward. They're both very big for those positions, and will be very difficult defensive assignments for Eric Gordon and Rasual Butler respectively. It's easy enough to remedy - bring Travis Outlaw in to defend Marion and slide Butler over onto Butler. But on the other end, maybe EJ will be too quick for Caron and he can take advantage of the matchup in that way. It will be interesting to see who blinks first. Of course, the Mavs also play Jason Terry a ton of minutes and they'll present a more conventional look when he's in.
- Gooden on Nowitzki. There's no good way to defend Dirk Nowitzki. A guy that tall, who can score that well, is going to cause trouble for any defender in the league. But I'm particularly apprehensive about Drew Gooden on him. When the Clippers have had success on Dirk in years past, it's been by crowding him with small defenders like Cat Mobley or Quinton Ross. Maybe that's the way to play this - put Rasual on Dirk and Gooden on Marion.
- The German Connection. The next time Kaman plays a game that matters, it could be as Nowitzki's teammate on team Deutschland at the World Championships in Turkey. Coach Dick Bauermann must be licking his schnitzel at Kaman's new offensive game. But it remains to be seen if Nowitzki and Kaman will commit to the team this summer. For his part, Kaman has said that if Dirk is in, he's in.
- Changes for both teams. These two teams haven't met since Halloween and a lot has changed for each of them. They both made major changes at the trading deadline, trading away starters and shuffling the lineup. However, the changes are indicative of teams heading in different directions. The Mavs of Mark Cuban are forever reloading, never rebuilding. The Clippers on the other hand made their moves to clear cap space for free agency this summer. Their records since accentuate the difference.
- Connections. Former Clippers Quinton Ross and James Singleton went to Washington as part of the deal that brought Butler and Haywood to Dallas. That was also the same deal that sent Gooden to Washington, from whence he was dealt to the Clippers. Former Clipper Tim Thomas has played 18 games for the Mavs this season, but hasn't played in almost two months.
I see some real genius in your flying, Maverick, but I can't say that in there. I was afraid that everyone in the tax trailer would see right through me, and I just don't want anyone to know that I've fallen for you.
- Get the Mavs perspective at Mavs Moneyball.