The Back Story (Clippers lead the season series 1-0):
|Clippers 119, Mavericks 112
|Clippers 129, Mavericks 127
The Big Picture:
The Clippers beat the Mavericks twice in the first half of January, but neither win was easy. The game in Dallas saw Chris Paul fall and separate his shoulder in the third quarter, but the Clippers pulled away in the fourth even without him. The game in Los Angeles was completely insane, with the Clippers building a big lead, losing all of it and then falling behind big, only to come storming back to win by two. Befitting two of the most efficient offenses, these have been high scoring affairs -- the Clippers have scored an average of 124 points per game in the first two meetings, but they've given up 119. The scoring is great, but if they don't find a way to stop Dallas, they're going to lose this game. The Clippers can ill afford another loss if they hope to catch Oklahoma City and/or hold off Houston in the standings. They lost in New Orleans last night when Chris Paul set a franchise record for most field goal attempts without a make, missing all 12 of his shots. Think about that for a moment -- Chris Paul owns a futility record for the Clippers. Paul will almost certainly bounce back, but the Mavericks are fighting for their playoff lives and are tough to beat in Dallas, so it's going to take a solid effort from the entire team to even their record on the road trip.
I keep expecting the Mavericks to fade a bit but they never do. They currently find themselves tied with Phoenix for eighth place in the Western Conference, and they're just two games behind fifth place Portland. They could finish the regular season as anything from the fifth seed to a lottery team (a lottery team with 49 or 50 wins, but a lottery team nonetheless). This must surely be the oldest lineup in basketball -- four of their starters and sixth man Vince Carter are over thirty, a few of them quite a ways over thirty. But they keep on playing winning basketball. Dirk Nowitzki remains one of the toughest covers in the league, and the role players around him all play their roles well. Will it be enough against the Clippers tonight? Will it be enough to squeak Dirk into the playoffs again this season? We'll see.
- Comparison of key metrics. The Mavericks are right behind the Clippers in offensive efficiency, but are far below average as a defensive team this season.
- The race. These same Mavs did the Clippers a big favor two nights ago when they beat the Thunder in overtime, bringing the Clippers within two game of OKC in the loss column. But the loss in New Orleans last night gave that game back, and the Clippers find themselves three games out of second in the loss column. It's still conceivable to catch the Thunder given their tough remaining schedule, but the Clippers can't afford more slip ups. Meanwhile, Houston is breathing down the Clippers' collective necks for third place. The Rockets are just a game back tied in the loss column, and in fact the Rockets will almost certainly move ahead of the Clippers tonight if LA loses in Dallas (the Rockets host the historically bad Sixers tonight and it would be a major shock if they lost).
- Jordan's big night. DeAndre Jordan scored a career high 25 points in the first meeting with the Mavs this season on 11-14 shooting while also grabbing 18 rebounds. It was probably the best game of his career. It's no accident that he had a big game against the Mavs. Dallas doesn't like to play Sam Dalembert a lot, and the rest of their bigs are either giving away size or strength. Carlisle doesn't want Nowitzki expending too much energy defending Griffin -- but Dirk doesn't have the strength to contend with DeAndre. He's not likely to score 25, but don't be surprised if the Clippers look to get Jordan a few more touches than usual against the Mavs.
- Old guys. There are 22 active NBA players 35 years or older. Three of them play for Dallas -- two starters (Nowitzki and Shawn Marion) and their sixth man (Vince Carter)! They also start two 32 year olds (Jose Calderon and Sam Dalembert). This is not a young team.
- The long and short of it. I am curious to see how Rick Carlisle decides to defend Griffin. Will he go with Dirk or Dalembert or Marion at the start of the game? Off the bench, he can pick a hyper long bean pole in Brandan Wright, or a hyper strong fireplug in DeJuan Blair. And of course he can mix things up to keep Blake guessing. The book is to defend Blake with length, so we may see a combination of Dalembert and Wright, but there are a lot of options. How Blake handles it -- using his strength against Wright, stepping away from the basket against Dalembert, using his height advantage against Blair, etc. -- will be the most interesting part. And of course someone else will have to defend Jordan, who put up 25 himself in the last meeting.
- Will tempers flare? In the last meeting, the Clippers comeback was aided by a technical foul against Vince Carter and a flagrant foul against Dalembert in the fourth quarter, part of a 23-4 run the Clippers used to win the game in the final five minutes. There were actually five technical fouls called in that game and it seems the Dallas vets do not like Blake Griffin much.
- Extra motivation for Collison? The Clippers' Collison spent last season in Dallas. After losing the starting job to George Hill in Indiana, the Mavs acquired him for Ian Mahinmi, which seemed like a steal at the time. He began the season as the Dallas starter -- but it wasn't long before the Mavs were desperately looking for an alternative, any alternative. They signed Derek Fisher to start in front of him, and when that didn't work out, they signed Mike James from the D-League, a 37 year old who had played a total of 166 NBA minutes since 2009. Collison has been nothing short of terrific for the Clippers. He was instrumental in the win in Dallas in early January in which Paul was hurt -- he'd love to once again play a key role in beating his former team.
- End of an era. The Mavericks missed the post season last year after 12 straight trips to the playoffs. With Dirk nearing the end of his career and the Mavs missing out on the big names like Dwight Howard and Chris Paul with their free agency money, it seemed likely that they would be out of the picture for awhile. But here they are, trying to start a new playoff streak this season.
- Carlisle and Rivers. During the Doc-udrama this summer, as the Clippers were pursuing Doc Rivers to be their new head coach, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Rivers was one of only four active head coaches with an NBA title. Phil Jackson, Pat Riley and Larry Brown have all won a title in the last decade, but those guys aren't coaching anymore, leaving Doc, Gregg Popovich, Eric Spoelstra and Dallas' Rick Carlisle as the only active NBA coaches to have coached their way to a ring. It's an exclusive club.
- Connections. Collison was a Maverick last season. But while the Mavs have had a habit of signing former Clippers in recent years (Lamar Odom, Chris Kaman, Elton Brand) there aren't any former Clippers currently playing for the Mavs. Monta Ellis was teammates with Matt Barnes on the Warriors and with J.J. Redick in Milwaukee last season.
- Get the Dallas perspective at Mavs Moneyball.
- Shakespearean reference:
Sonnet CXLVI (146)
Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
These rebel powers that thee array;
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? is this thy body's end?
Then soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
. So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
. And Death once dead, there's no more dying then.
The word "maverick" is a modern American addition to the lexicon and clearly did not exist in Shakespeare's day. I turned to the thesaurus and came up with "rebel" as its Elizabethan analog.