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Clippers-Mavericks preview: Another shot at a quality win

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The Clippers have very few wins against the top teams this season, but they'll get another chance this afternoon when the Mavericks come to town.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season
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vs
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24-12

26-11
January 10th, 2015, 12:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
11-6 East 16-4
13-6 West 10-7
16-5 Home 13-6
8-7 Road 13-5
7-10 .500+ 8-8
17-2 .500- 18-3
6-4 L10 7-3
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Rajon Rondo
J.J. Redick SG Monta Ellis
Matt Barnes SF Chandler Parsons
Blake Griffin PF Dirk Nowitzki
DeAndre Jordan C Tyson Chandler
Advanced Stats
96.46 (14th of 30) Pace 97.04 (10th of 30)
110.1 (3rd of 30) ORtg 111.8 (1st of 30)
103.2 (14th of 30) DRtg 103.4 (17th of 30)
Injuries/Other
None
None

The Back Story (the Clippers won the season series last season 3-1):

Date Venue Final

01/03/14 Dallas Clippers 119, Mavericks 112 Recap Box
01/15/14 Los Angeles Clippers 129, Mavericks 127 Recap Box
03/27/14 Dallas Clippers 109, Mavericks 103 Recap Box
04/03/14 Los Angeles Mavericks 113, Clippers 107 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Clippers and the Mavericks played some great games last season. All four were were decided by seven points or fewer, and all four were one possession games late in the fourth quarter. Almost exactly one year ago the teams played what I consider the game of the season, a roller-coaster affair that saw the Mavs turn a nine point deficit late in the third quarter into a seemingly insurmountable 17 point lead, only to see the Clippers close the game on a 23-4 run for the win. The Clippers could desperately use an exhilarating win today, or better yet a wire-to-wire blowout, as they continue to search for wins over quality opponents. Wednesday's thrashing of the Lakers is great if it is the start of a more focused and efficient streak of basketball for the Clippers -- but if it's just another example of the team beating the bad teams only to turn around and struggle against the contenders, then that Lakers win becomes meaningless.

The Antagonist:

The Mavericks have somehow managed to stay relevant, which is no small accomplishment. When they missed the playoffs in 2013 (the only time that has happened since the turn of the century) it seemed like the end of an era. Dirk Nowitzki was 34, they'd pulled out all the stops to win the 2011 title, they'd missed out on the marquee free agents -- time to start over, right? Instead here they are, two seasons later, leading the league in offensive efficiency and second in efficiency differential. How did they do it? I'm not really sure, but the fact that Rick Carlisle is their coach seems to be part of it. Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons weren't exactly "can't miss" signings, but playing for Carlisle they've been great. And the Mavs have always been willing to take chances in the Mark Cuban era, as they did bringing back Tyson Chandler and trading for Rajon Rondo. The Nowitzki era will eventually come to an end in Big D -- but somehow, some way, they've remained a contender this season, which is at least two seasons after I thought their window had closed.

The Subplots

  • The Questionable Blogger. My pal Rebecca Lawson (I call her Becks, usually without her consent, but whatev) and I exchanged some questions in advance of this showdown. Becks writes for Mavs Moneyball and has a serious thing for seven foot Germans. Check out her insights to my questions, then head over to MMB to read my answers to her questions.
  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers led the NBA in offensive efficiency last season and have been even more productive per 100 possessions in 36 games so far this season. Even so, they are not the top offense in the NBA, because the Mavs have been even better. The Mavs, a bit like the Clippers, also seem to be even better than their overall record when you look at the metrics. The Warriors have far and away the best efficiency differential in the league, but the Mavs are a clear second, despite the fact that they have only the sixth best record. The Clippers are fourth in efficiency differential, but tenth in winning percentage.
  • Standings watch. It's way too early to be obsessing over playoff seeding, so let's obsess over playoff seeding a bit, shall we? The Clippers have been mired in sixth for a while now because five other teams in the West have been pretty darn hot. However, as of right now, the 12-loss Clippers are just one game back of 11-loss teams Dallas, Houston and Memphis in the loss column. In other words, they they could conceivably find themselves as high as third within a few days if things fall right. That would need to start today with a win over the Mavs of course. Regardless, there's a lot of season left and it's obviously too early to be worrying about such things, so cut it out.
  • Does Rondo fit? Rajon Rondo joined the Mavs in mid-December. The team is 7-3 since, which sounds great, right? Then again, they were 19-8 without Rondo, which is almost as good. To my mind there's an open question as to whether Rondo fits with the Mavs. Leading scorer Monta Ellis isn't a point guard, but he's a scorer who has to have the ball in his hands to be at his most effective. Nowitzki is going to get a lot of iso touches as well of course. But Rondo has to have the ball to be effective on offense -- not as a shooter but as a passer -- so divvying up the touches could become an issue on offense. Elsewhere, there's little doubt that the long-armed Rondo is an upgrade over Jameer Nelson.
  • Depth. The Mavs' starting lineup -- Rondo, Ellis, Parsons, Nowitzki and Chandler -- is as talented as any in the NBA. The bench is a different story however. They have a whole bunch of point guards (Devin Harris, Raymond Felton, J.J. Barea) and not a lot else. They gave up Brandan Wright (who had been incredibly productive in his minutes for them) to get Rondo, and their front court reserves are down to the likes of Richard Jefferson and Charlie Villanueva and Greg Smith. Part of the plan with Rondo was to shore up the front court with a veteran signing, but they missed out on the Josh Smith sweepstakes -- so now they're hoping to land Jermaine O'Neal, though the same can be said for a bunch of other teams.
  • Dirk and the Hometown Discount. Coming as it does on the heels of the Clippers' win over the Lakers, comparing and contrasting Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant seems obvious. Both are 36. Both have played for a single NBA team, an increasingly rare phenomenon unless that team is the Spurs. They are 1-2 in career points for active players, and both are climbing the all-time list (Kobe jumped Michael Jordan into third place in December and Dirk got into the seven spot by surpassing Moses Malone a couple of games back). But Nowitzki is surrounded by talent on a good team, while Kobe is stuck on one of the worst rosters in the NBA, in large part because of decisions they made. Dirk re-signed with the Mavs in July for three years and $26M, taking about a $14M per season pay cut to finish his career with the only team he's ever known while giving that team a chance to sign quality teammates for him. Kobe too took a pay cut -- but still have more than three times as much as Nowitzki. Kobe was asked about the difference and offered some misguided opinions about Dirk being naive to help out his owner.
  • Chandler and Jordan. For years I was offering Tyson Chandler as the proper role model for DeAndre Jordan. In his second season under Doc Rivers, Jordan is almost out-Chandlering Tyson himself. Jordan is leading the league in rebounding and field goal percentage for the second year in a row, and he's third in blocked shots. Chandler is still the far superior defender both on the ball and in rotation, but Jordan has made great strides there as well. It's worth noting that Tyson Chandler took a LONG TIME to become Tyson Chandler. He was a key component of the Mavs title run in 2011, but he was already 28 and the Mavs were his third team in three seasons at the time, with everyone trying to get out from under what seemed to be a bloated contract. Jordan is 26 -- if he's really on the Chandler path, he could still be getting better.
  • Getting younger. It seems strange to say it of a team that starts Nowitzki and Chandler, but the Mavs are younger this season. Last season's team featured Shawn Marion and Vince Carter in the rotation, along with Nowitzki. The Mavs are still old and veteran-laden, with the likes of Jefferson and Villanueva currently playing key roles, but Parsons and Ellis and Rondo make them younger and may give them a path into the Post-Dirk future.
  • Fun game. The Christmas Day jerseys, with first names instead of last, made me think of this. How many players have the same first name as a teammate's last name? There are two in this game, one for each team: Tyson -- Chandler -- Parsons and DeAndre -- Jordan -- Farmar. Leave your examples in the comments.
  • Carlisle and Rivers. During the Doc-udrama last summer, as the Clippers were pursuing Doc Rivers to be their new head coach, I was somewhat surprised to realize 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 (whose Heat will be here tomorrow) and Carlisle as the only active NBA coaches to have coached their way to a ring. It's an exclusive club.
  • Connections. The Mavs have had a habit of signing Clippers in recent years (Lamar Odom, Chris Kaman, Elton Brand all since departed) and they continued that trend with Al-Farouq Aminu this summer. Monta Ellis was teammates with Matt Barnes on the "We Believe" Warriors and with J.J. Redick in Milwaukee briefly in 2013. Chandler was originally drafted by the Clippers (and traded for Brand, coincidentally) and was Chris Paul's favorite lob target for three seasons in New Orleans. Jared Cunningham, who is no longer a Clipper as of Wednesday, was drafted by the Mavs and spent one season in Dallas.
  • Get the Dallas perspective at Mavs Moneyball.
  • Wikipedia reference: Maverick is an American Western television series with comedic overtones created by Roy Huggins. The show ran from September 22, 1957 to July 8, 1962 on ABC and stars James Garner as Bret Maverick, an adroitly articulate cardsharp. Eight episodes into the first season, he was joined by Jack Kelly as his brother Bart, and from that point on, Garner and Kelly alternated leads from week to week, sometimes teaming up for the occasional two-brother episode. The Mavericks were poker players from Texas who traveled all over the American Old West and on Mississippi riverboats, constantly getting into and out of life-threatening trouble of one sort or another, usually involving money, women, or both. They would typically find themselves weighing a financial windfall against a moral dilemma. More often than not, their consciences trumped their wallets since both Mavericks were intensely ethical.

    When Garner left the series after the third season due to a legal dispute, Roger Moore was added to the cast as their cousin Beau Maverick. Robert Colbert appeared later in the fourth season as a third Maverick brother, Brent Maverick. No more than two of the series leads ever appeared together in the same episode, and usually only one.