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Clippers-Mavericks preview: Extending the home streak

It's been four days since the Clippers last played. They finally get back on the court tonight against the Mavericks, where they get a chance to extend their record home winning streak and maintain their position atop the NBA standings.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

January 9th, 2013, 7:30 PM
Prime Ticket, ESPN, KFWB 980 AM
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Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Darren Collison
Willie Green SG O.J. Mayo
Caron Butler SF Shawn Marion
Blake Griffin PF Dirk Nowitzki
DeAndre Jordan C Chris Kaman
Advanced Stats through games of Jan. 7
92.1 (11th of 30) Pace 94.0 (4th of 30)
110.3 (4th of 30) ORtg 102.4 (25th of 30)
100.7 (3rd of 30) DRtg 107.1 (23rd of 30)
Grant Hill (knee) GTD
Brandan Wright (quadricep) doubtful
Jamal Crawford (foot) GTD

Chauncey Billups (ankle) out

Trey Thompkins (knee) out

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers crushed the Mavericks a little over a month ago, near the beginning of their 17 game winning streak (it was win number four, to be precise). Discounting the Dec. 1 win over the Kings (who are, you know, the Kings) the Mavs win was the one that really got the team rolling again in a "Hey, these guys are really, really good" sort of way. ESPN must have been expecting Dallas to be better than 13-22 (OK, pretty much everybody was, though I'm not sure how good they were ever going to be) because they broadcast that first meeting and they'll be there again tonight. That doesn't bode well for the Mavericks -- the Clippers have been at their best on national TV all season, and are now 8-1 on ESPN and TNT by my unofficial tally (with the lone loss coming in overtime in Oklahoma City). After losing two games to begin January, the Clippers seem ready to perhaps start another long streak. The schedule isn't nearly as soft, but in wins over the Lakers and Warriors, the team certainly played with a purpose. They also have an active home winning streak to protect, for what it's worth. The Clippers have won a franchise record 12 straight at home, so tonight would extend that record for this team that seems determined to re-write franchise history almost every night.

The Antagonist:

At least the Mavericks have Dirk Nowitzki back, but that's about the extent of the good news. Or rather, let's say that Dirk's return has yet to translate to better news on the court. The Mavs have lost 12 of their last 14 games. Their only win in their last 10 games (or the eight with Dirk) came against Washington, owners of the worst record in the league. So yeah, times are tough right now. The Mavs have made the playoffs for 12 years in a row -- basically since Mark Cuban bought the team in 2000 -- but that run will almost certainly come to an end this season. When it does, Dallas will have some huge questions to answer about their future. Since winning the NBA Title in 2011 (hard to believe it was less than two years ago) the team has parted ways with everyone on the roster save for Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and a couple of role players, and they've got no one under contract beyond next season. They'll be in the market for a big free agent this summer -- but after striking out on both Deron Williams and Dwight Howard in 2012, it's hard to see who they could get. They could always make another run at Dwight, I suppose. Bottom line, it's a mess, and unless Nowitzki suddenly starts playing like 2011 Dirk, it's not going to get a lot better.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. When these teams met a month ago, the Mavs were a little below average in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Now they are way below average in both. It has not been a good month for Dallas. The Clippers on the other hand remain top five on both offense and defense. The Spurs are the only other team that can make that claim.
  • Best record in the NBA. The Clippers began the day Wednesday with the best record in the NBA. By the time they tip off against the Mavs, they could be tied with the Thunder if Oklahoma City beats Minnesota. So the Clippers will probably need this win to remain on top of the NBA standings.
  • Aggressive CP3. Chris Paul has been pretty open about why it's happening -- with Jamal Crawford out, he needs to score more, so we've seen the aggressive, attacking CP3 from the opening tip in the last two games. He scored a season-high 30 against the Lakers on Friday and would have easily topped that on Saturday had he not rested the enter fourth quarter against the Warriors (he finished with 27 in just 28 minutes). The truth is, the Clippers are better when Paul looks to score more, but it's not in his nature to look for his own shot early. I personally love to see him take an open 15 footer off a ball screen in the first quarter. It's a great shot, one of the best the Clippers see from their half court sets, but he tends to pass them up early in the game far too frequently.
  • Hill and Crawford. Grant Hill, who has yet to play a regular season game this year, had a full speed practice Tuesday and Jamal Crawford, who has missed the last two, participated as well. According to Vinny Del Negro, either one of them could conceivably play tonight depending on how they feel before the game. My guess? They'll both be in uniform, Crawford will play, and Hill might see the floor in garbage time if the Clippers are up -- but it's just a hunch.
  • Rested Clippers. The Clippers just finished a stretch of four games in five nights (or five games in seven nights or seven games in 10 nights -- pick your time frame, the Clippers played a ton of games). But after that hectic schedule, they've now been off since Saturday and should be rested and ready for the Mavericks. Of course it's always possible that they'll come out a little flat after such a long layoff, but at home and playing on ESPN, I'm not too concerned about that.
  • Dirk. Dirk underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on October 19. At the time the Mavericks were saying it would be six weeks until he could resume basketball activities. He played his first game just before Christmas, more like nine weeks after the surgery, which isn't terrible in the big picture. However, it is taking some time for him to get into game shape -- in his first five games back he averaged about 8 points. He's scored 19, 20 and 20 in the last three, and is starting to be more like the old Dirk. But it may be too late.
  • Defending Dirk. The initial assignment of defending Nowitzki will likely fall to Blake Griffin in a straight across power forward matchup, but it's also possible that Vinny Del Negro will prefer to put Caron Butler on Dirk and have Griffin defend Shawn Marion. Actually, that might be Rick Carlisle's preferred matchup also, producing the rare double-cross match, where the cross-matches cancel each other out. Cool. I expect we'll see some Lamar Odom on Dirk as well.
  • Mayo and the threes. How's this for a telling stat? O.J. Mayo is 48-76 (.632) on three pointers in Dallas' 13 wins. He's 32-109 (.294) in their 22 losses. Talk about cause and effect. His overall three point percentage on the season remains far and a way a career high, but he's cooled off significantly from a sizzling start, as was inevitable. In the last 10 games he's made 22% from deep, and the Mavs have lost nine of those. Fool's gold.
  • First Fisher, now Mike James? How desperate are the Mavericks? Desperate enough to have signed Derek Fisher at the beginning of December. Fisher asked to be waived when that wasn't working out, and now the Mavs have signed veteran Mike James, who is 37 and has played a total of 166 NBA minutes in the past four seasons.
  • Mike James trivia. Did you know that Mike James averaged over 20 points per game one season? Strange but true. The 20 point threshold is used as a shorthand for a top of the line scoring season, and James, despite a wholly mediocre NBA career, managed to average 20.3 for an entire season in 05-06 with the Raptors. It has to be one of the weirdest outlier seasons ever. Actually, this Mavs team could be really good if they could just play the games in 2006. Can you imagine? 06 Brand, 06 Vince, 06 Dirk, 06 Mike James, 06 Marion -- it's not the Mavs that suck, it's our understanding of the space-time continuum.
  • Kaman and Brand in L.A. As every good citizen of Clips Nation well knows, Kaman and Brand were the starting bigs on the Clippers' 2006 playoff team. They started together in L.A. for four full seasons during which time Brand was a monster (a two time All Star and second team All NBA in 2006) and Kaman was coming into his own. Kaman 2.0 emerged in 2007-2008 -- unfortunately while Brand was out all season after rupturing his Achilles in the offseason (in a one-on-one duel with Kaman of course). As Kaman's game developed, citizens dreamed of pairing him with a healthy Brand -- but it never happened. Brand returned for eight games at the end of the 07-08 season while Kaman was out with an injury, and then FElton bolted for Philadelphia that summer. Kaman went on to make an All Star team himself as a Clipper in 2010, but Clipper fans never got to see the All Star bigs together. The old friends are now reunited in Dallas and it will be strange to see them playing together on the Clippers court wearing a different uniform.
  • Kaman vs. Jordan. This will be the most interesting matchup of the game by far. For his first two seasons, Jordan was Kaman's backup. His third season he started while Kaman was hurt most of the year. They are very different centers. Kaman is incredibly skilled, and Jordan is incredibly athletic. But most people make the assumption that the somewhat doofus-y looking Kaman is unathletic, which is not true. He certainly doesn't have Jordan's explosiveness, but he's got great agility and surprising quickness. He's also a very good defender. It stands to reason that each of these guys will have a little extra motivation going against each other. It will be interesting to see who gets the better of this matchup. Jordan's stock is pretty high right now, but I've always believed that Kaman is the better basketball player.
  • The disastrous Free Agent class of 2008. With Brand in town it's impossible not to think about the summer of 2008, when every free agent signing was a complete disaster. The big money signings -- Brand, Baron Davis, Corey Maggette, Gilbert Arenas -- have all been atrocious, with three of those guys having been amnestied and Maggette traded approximately 37 times in the last four years. Some of the lesser signings included DeSagana Diop, Beno Udrih, Chris Duhon and James Posey. It's very difficult to find a multi-year signing from that summer where a free agent changed teams that worked out. Think about it: what if the Clippers had actually gotten what they wanted that summer and were paying Brand and Davis about $40M this season?
  • Lamar Odom. The Clippers acquired Odom from the Mavericks this summer in a four team trade. Odom spent one disastrous season in Dallas -- he was terrible, and it got so bad that owner Mark Cuban kicked him off the team near the end of the season. Cuban goes to every game with his team and he'll be in STAPLES tonight, but don't expect him to be hugging Lamar. Trading for Odom was clearly a risk, but he is looking better and better as a Clipper. Of course, expectations are everything. His start in L.A. was just as dreadful as he began in Dallas, at least shooting the ball, but somehow it all felt different. Clearly his heart wasn't in it in Dallas, but even when he couldn't shoot, it was pretty clear that he was playing hard and really, really cared this season with the Clippers. The Clippers patience is paying off in an Odom that keeps improving and currently stands as the team's best per minute rebounder (no small feat in a front court featuring Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan). In fact, rebounds may be the best barometer of Lamar's emotional investment last year versus this year: last year in Dallas he averaged 7.3 rebounds per 36 minutes, his lowest rate since he left L.A. for Miami almost a decade ago. This year he's at 10.4 rebounds per 36, the second best rate of his career.
  • Connections. A startling number of new Mavericks have major connections to Los Angeles basketball. Kaman and Brand are of course best known as Clippers. Collison played high school ball at Etiwanda and played four years at UCLA (where he was a teammate of Clipper Ryan Hollins for one season). O.J. Mayo played professional basketball at USC. On the other side, Caron Butler played a season and a half for the Mavericks and was an injured member of their championship team. Lamar Odom had a short season (shortened by the NBA lockout and by his eventual dismissal from the team) in Dallas last year that he'd love to forget. Collison and Paul were teammates in New Orleans during Collison's rookie season; the rookie actually started several games while Paul was injured that season. Shawn Marion and Grant Hill were teammates in Phoenix for once season before Marion was traded to Miami.
  • Get the Dallas perspective at Mavs Moneyball.
  • Lyrical reference:

    L.A. County -- Lyle Lovett

    She left Dallas for California
    With an old friend by her side
    Well he did not say much
    But one year later
    He'd ask her to be his wife
    And the lights of L.A. County
    Look like diamonds in the sky
    When you're driving through the hours
    With an old friend at your side

    People are frequently surprised when they find out that next to the Radiohead and the R.E.M. and the Cake, I also have a ton of Lyle Lovett on my ipod. They shouldn't be -- he's a tremendous song writer that you can't simply pigeonhole as 'country'.