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Los Angeles Clippers at Dallas Mavericks - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season

American Airlines Center
January 24th, 2011, 5:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis PG Jason Kidd
Eric Gordon? SG DeShawn Stevenson
Ryan Gomes
SF Sasha Pavlovic
Blake Griffin
PF Dirk Nowitzki
DeAndre Jordan
C Tyson Chandler

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

If you were just looking at their recent records, you might think the Clippers should be favored in this game. After all, the Clippers are 12-5 in their last 17, while the Mavericks are 4-10 in their last 14, more or less swapping their respective winning percentages over that time. But the Mavs have recently gotten their leading scorer back, while the Clippers may have lost their leading scorer for this game, so that changes things a lot. These teams haven't played each other since Halloween, the third game of the season. Needless to say, the Clippers are a very different team at this point than they were back then. Back in October, the Clippers hadn't yet figured out who their stars were. In the first Dallas game, Baron Davis took ten shots to Eric Gordon's nine. Chris Kaman and Blake Griffin each took 15 shots. But during the Clippers recent run, the lion's share of the shots have been going to Griffin and Gordon. Unfortunately, one half of the G-Force may not be there tonight; Eric Gordon is currently questionable for the game because of his sprained wrist. Gordon had an MRI that revealed nothing more serious than the sprain, but stayed behind in LA to consult with another doctor as the rest of the team flew to Dallas. He may join the team in Dallas if the wrist starts feeling better. Obviously the Clippers chances in Dallas take a significant hit if Gordon, their leading scorer and the 8th leading scorer in the NBA, is unable to play. Without Gordon, the Clippers will be even more dependent on Griffin. They'll also need a big game from Baron to provide some backcourt scoring, and it would be nice if Ryan Gomes would have a good game scoring the ball. Randy Foye, who would start at shooting guard if Gordon is unable to play, has been a capable scorer in his career, but he's been terrible as a Clipper, shooting 31% on the season. It's not getting better either - he's down to 28% in January. So I guess what I'm saying is, Get Well Soon, EJ.

The Antagonist:

The Mavericks are in a terrible slump, having lost 10 of their last 14. It's difficult to gauge if they're still vulnerable. For all of those 10 losses, the team was missing either Dirk Nowitzki or Caron Butler or both. Butler is out for the season after knee surgery (he hopes to be back for the beginning of the playoffs), but Nowitzki returned to the lineup a little over a week ago. But even with Dirk back, the team seems out of sorts, with only two wins in five games, and with one of those wins coming at the buzzer against the 12 win Nets (the other was against the Lakers, so it's not all bad). In particular, Dirk has not been sharp since returning. He was shooting 54% from the field for the season when he got hurt (an absolutely ridiculous figure when you consider the number of difficult shots he takes); he's shooting 38% since returning. The Mavs are opening a four game home stand tonight against the Clippers, and it's safe to say that they'll be looking to get back on track. Interestingly, Dallas has not been significantly better at home than they have been on the road this season, but you have to bear in mind that until their recent struggles, they had the second best record in the entire NBA at 24-5, so it wasn't that their home record was bad, just that their road record was so outstanding. The bottom line is that this is not a particularly deep Dallas team - after Nowitzki, Jason Terry is the second leading scorer at 15 a game, and Terry's having his worst season as a Mav shooting the ball. So the loss of Butler may have a big impact on the team, even with Nowitzki back.

The Subplots

  • Seven game losing streak. The Clippers have had quite the season so far as regards breaking losing streaks. Prior to their latest encounters, the Clippers had losing streaks of 9 games against the Suns, 14 against the Hornets and 19 against the Spurs - all those losing streaks were broken. They have lost their last 7 against the Mavs, and 7 straight in Dallas as well. Only 8 game streaks against the Magic and Cavs are longer for the Clippers right now.
  • Road Record. The Clippers are 3-13 on the road, among the worst road records in the league. When they met Portland last Thursday, Marv Albert kept talking about how the hadn't won on the road since December. Well, that's strictly speaking true, but it's also true that they've won 3 of the last 5 road games. The simple fact is they haven't played many road games lately - only two in January, both of which they lost - but in theory they've been playing better on the road, despite the implication of Marv's comments.
  • The Road to 41. Losses in Oakland and Portland made the prospect of reaching .500 on the season pretty bleak - the simple fact is that the team is going to have to win some road games in order to achieve that goal, and they didn't exactly instill confidence in their future road success in those games. They absolutely need to get one of these Texas games to have any confidence heading into their February Odyssey. Heading out on an 11 game road trip after losing their last 4 road games would be tough to take.
  • The last time the Clippers won in Dallas. Apropos of not much, I happened to notice that they last time the Clippers won in Dallas was on the final game of the season in 2006. The Clippers and Mavs had each assured their playoff positions rendering the game meaningless. Boniface N'Dong started at center for LA and Rawle Marshall led the Mavs in scoring. You have to go back to December 2003 for the last time the Clippers won a game in Dallas that mattered.
  • Gordon beat up. Whether or not Eric Gordon plays tonight, it's clear that the kid is pretty beat up right now. He tore a ligament in the ring finger of his shooting hand against the Timberwolves on Wednesday. Then he bruised his back and sprained his wrist in a hard fall when he was fouled on a layup attempt against the Warriors on Saturday. The Clippers tend to be very conservative with injuries - I'd be surprised if he plays tonight.
  • Houston tomorrow. We don't know the extent of the injury of course, but if there was some concern about having him play back to back games, it might make sense to hold Gordon out for the Houston game. A split on this Texas two step would be a good result, and Houston may be the more winnable of the games, based on the overall records of the teams. Of course, the rest of the Clippers will be on the second game of a back to back, so it would still be a pretty tough task. It's probably best not to overthink it - if he's ready to play tonight, play him; worry about Houston tomorrow.
  • Gordon and Nowitzki. Quick, without looking it up, who has a higher points per game average this season, Eric Gordon or Dirk Nowitzki? The answer is Gordon at 24.1 to Dirk's 23.4. It's no knock on Dirk - he's having arguably his best scoring season with efficiency numbers that are simply through the roof for a high volume scorer. He and Kevin Martin are the only 20 point per game scorers in the league with True Shooting Percentages above .600 (Gordon is sixth with a bullet at .587 now that he's found his three pointer). Still, Gordon remains under the radar in the NBA, and I'm sure that most fans have no idea that he's actually scoring more than guys named Carmelo and Dirk.
  • Gomes on the road. Ryan Gomes is having a terrible year shooting the ball, and is way off of his career shooting percentages across the board. But I noticed in the last two road games that he was particularly bad - 1 for 6 against the Warriors and 1 for 5 against the Blazers, in games that the team might have had a chance to win if one or two more guys had played well. It turns out, that Gomes is shooting 36% on the road (versus 42% at home), and 28% from deep (versus 37%). That's brutal.
  • Zone Defense? Dallas plays more zone than most NBA teams. After watching the video of the Clippers vs. the Warriors on Saturday, I'm sure they're going to play a ton of zone tonight. The Clippers missed 26 threes on Saturday, and while Gordon was out of the game, the Warriors were absolutely daring Baron, Foye, Aminu, Gomes and Bledsoe to launch long jumpers. Aminu is in a terrible slump after hovering around 50% for the first couple of months of the season, and none of the others have been particularly good at any point this year. If Dallas goes to a packed in zone and Gordon is out, Vinny Del Negro may be forced to go with Brian Cook and Rasual Butler. For some reason, he ignored them during the Warriors game. Cook and Butler may not always make their threes, but one thing you can say for them is that they are not afraid to take them. On Saturday, those other guys were all afraid to shoot, and that pretty much never ends well.
  • Jarron Collins. The Clippers did not sign Jarron Collins for the rest of the season today. Under league rules, you can only sign a player to two 10 day contracts; after that, you have to sign them for the remainder of the season. The move is to save money and keep a roster spot open for ongoing flexibility. Ike Diogu has obviously moved way ahead of Collins in the rotation and Diogu has played well. Also, Brian Cook is back on the active roster after missing a month with a sprained ankle, though Cook did not get off the bench on Saturday. The Clippers remain pretty thin up front with Chris Kaman and Craig Smith both still out; hopefully they won't regret losing Collins.
  • Baron and Kidd. Way back in October, I had this to say about Baron Davis: "If he is going to be successful in the NBA as he gets older, it will likely have to be as a Jason Kidd type pass first point guard." Lo and behold, after getting over his injury issues from earlier in the season, Baron returned to the Clippers lineup as exactly that - a pass first point guard. He's still putting up 14 shots per 36 minutes, which is probably higher than it should be, but it's his fewest shots since his second season in the league. Then again, the Clippers have needed him to score lately, and will probably need him again tonight.
  • Defending Dirk. It will be interesting to see how the Clippers decide to defend Nowitzki. Will they put DeAndre Jordan's length on him? Or will they stick with the power forward matchup and defend him with Griffin? The Clippers can ill afford to have either of their bigs in foul trouble, so this is an assignment fraught with peril.
  • Physical play? In re-reading my recap from October, I noted that the Mavs played Griffin very physically in the first meeting. They held Blake to 16 points on 4 for 15 shooting in that game, his worst shooting performance of the season. All year, Blake has been able to bounce back against teams the second time around - whether it's a learning curve, or a simple desire to avenge himself is hard to say. But Blake Griffin basically never has two bad games in a row against a team, and I'm absolutely certain he remembers what happened the first time.
  • Sasha Pavlovic. So, I'm watching Mavs-Bulls Thursday, and there's some guy in a mask starting at small forward for Dallas; turns out, it's former Cav Sasha Pavlovic, on his second 10 day contract with the team (and he broke his nose against the Pistons last Monday). Here's a question: if you're Sasha Pavlovic, why are you waiting around for an NBA team to call in January? Why wasn't he getting paid to play basketball back home in Europe? Seems strange.
  • Peja Stojakovic. The Mavericks signed Peja Stojakovic today; he had recently cleared waivers after being released by Toronto. He won't play tonight, which has got to be considered mildly good news, given his history of killing the Clippers. The Mavs also traded French project center Alexis Ajinca to Toronto for the rights to a Greek player who will probably never play in the NBA.
  • Mixed message. The Clippers press release concerning Gordon's injury is causing a bit of confusion. It says "Eric Gordon will not travel with the team to Dallas this afternoon" (emphasis added) and then calls him a game time decision for the Mavs game, without ever specifying that he could catch up with the team tomorrow. I suppose it's implied, but the NBATV crawl shortened that to "Eric Gordon will not travel to Dallas, he will be a game time decision", which is completely illogical of course. Not much of a decision to be made if he's not in Dallas.
  • Superstar for one game. Jose Juan Barea. Barea tends to kill the Clippers. At least Rodrique Beaubois is hurt. Talk about killing the Clippers.
  • Famous Quotation:

    Except in a few well-publicized instances (enough to lend credence to the iconography painted on the walls of the media), the rigorous practice of rugged individualism usually leads to poverty, ostracism and disgrace. The rugged individualist is too often mistaken for the misfit, the maverick, the spoilsport, the sore thumb.
    Lewis Lapham, Money and Class in America
  • Get the Mavericks perspective at Mavs Moneyball.