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Clippers-Mavericks preview: Getting Back on Track

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The Clippers are in a downward spiral, but they have a chance to get a statement win on the road against one of the best teams in the West, as they head to Dallas to face the Mavericks at American Airlines Center.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season
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vs
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33-19

35-18
February 9th, 2015, 5:30 PM
American Airlines Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
13-11 East 18-5
20-8 West 17-13
20-7 Home 16-8
13-12 Road 19-10
12-15 .500+ 13-14
21-4 .500- 22-4
5-5 L10 5-5
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG J.J. Barea
Austin Rivers SG Monta Ellis
Matt Barnes SF Chandler Parsons
Spencer Hawes PF Dirk Nowitzki
DeAndre Jordan C Tyson Chandler
Advanced Stats
94.0 (14th of 30) Pace 94.4 (11th of 30)
113.1 (1st of 30) ORtg 111.9 (4th of 30)
106.5 (17th of 30) DRtg 105.8 (15th of 30)
Injuries/Other

Blake Griffin (elbow)
J.J. Redick (back spasms)
Glen Davis (back spasms)


Rajon Rondo (nose)

The Last Time Around:

Date Venue Final

01/10/15 Los Angeles Clippers 120, Mavericks 100 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

As Steve had noted in his preview from the last time these two teams met in early January, the Clippers and the Mavericks played some great games last season, all four being one possession games late in the fourth quarter. The lone match thus far this season wasn't nearly as competitive, with the Clippers pulling out to a 20-point lead early in the second half and coasting to victory.  The Clippers had won 5 of 7 going into the game, but aside from the 14-point thrashing of Golden State, they were against sub-par opponents.  The Clippers desperately needed a win over a quality opponent to silence the naysayers, and beating a Mavericks team that had just won 6 of 7 with the best offense in the NBA would be just that.  After dismantling the Mavericks, the Clippers would go on to finish January by winning 9 of their next 12 games, ending up comfortably in the mix for a top 3 seed in the Western Conference.  This time, the story is a bit different.  The Clippers aren't trying to prove that they can win against elite opposition, they are just trying to win any way they can, and the red-hot Mavericks have no intention of letting that happen.

The Antagonist:

Despite winning a lot these past couple of weeks, the Mavericks are in a bit of a pickle.  They were unanimously praised for bringing Rajon Rondo, a pass-first point guard with a solid defensive reputation, to a Mavericks team filled with scorers and in need of a stronger defensive presence on the perimeter.  And while the trade wasn't a complete disaster, it hasn't exactly been a slam dunk either.  Taking into account Rondo's recent injury, Dallas' record has been 22-9 without him in the line-up, but only 13-9 with the former Celtic (and that's not including the win over Orlando where Rondo played less than 2 minutes before he got hurt).  This, of course, doesn't help the Clippers, who would rather face the more dysfunctional version of the Mavericks.  The current line-up, with the ever-irritating hobbit J.J. Barea playing the majority of the minutes at the point, has won 4 of their last 5, scoring over 100 in all 5 games (something they had only done in 2 of their previous 8 games before that, with Rondo starting).  What will they do when Rondo is healthy and ready to go again, particularly if they continue to win without him?  Fortunately, it's not a problem we need to be concerned with.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers and the Mavericks are very similar when it comes to key metrics.  They both do most of their damage at the offensive end, with the Clippers #1 and Dallas #4 (per www.basketball-reference.com), and both teams are in the middle of the pack when it comes to defense, with the Mavs at #15 and the Clippers at #17 (per www.basketball-reference.com).  Dallas did just recently pass up the Clippers for the 2nd best point differential in the NBA (behind Golden State, of course), and the Clippers have settled into 3rd place on that list, which indicates that both teams are better than their records indicate -- when healthy, of course.
  • Standings watch. The Mavericks are currently holding the 5th seed.  The 3rd through 7th seeds are separated by only 3 games in the loss column.  Houston has 16, Portland has 17, Dallas has 18, and both the Clippers and Spurs have 19 losses.  It's an extremely tight race, and no one wants to be last, with the 7th seed and stuck facing Memphis in the first round.  (I'm superstitious, so I'm not even going to talk about what lies after the 7th seed.)
  • Revisiting the question: Does Rondo fit? A month ago, Steve pondered this very question, and at the time it wasn't even on anyone's radar, as the Mavs had gone 7-3 with Rondo at that point.  As I mentioned earlier, the Mavs have had a better record without him.  While their defense has certainly improved, with a non-scorer like Rondo, their offense stopped being a true juggernaut, and the net result has been a negative one.  Steve had a hunch that either Monta Ellis or Dirk Nowitzki would see their production suffer because of the trade.  Ellis has mostly been identical, with or without Rondo on the floor, but Dirk's efficiency has taken a big hit.  While he's shooting much better from three-point-range (39% with Rondo, compared to only 36% without him), Dirk's efficiency on two-pointers has dropped significantly (46% with Rondo, compared to 53% without him).  And it's not just Dirk.  The overall team has shot worse from inside the arc with Rondo (49% with Rondo, compared to 53% without him).  It's still a legitimate question, and one that the Mavs will need to answer sooner or later.
  • Injuries. Injuries. And injuries. The Clippers had been almost freakishly healthy all season, a point made by our Fearless Leader dozens of times by now.  That was, of course, until J.J. Redick found himself sidelined with back spasms.  And naturally, when it rains, it pours.  Mere days later, the Clippers found out they had also lost Blake Griffin for anywhere from 10 days to 6 weeks due to a staph infection discovered in his elbow.  And then, in the game later that evening, the Clippers lost Glen Davis to back spasms after a routine box-out by Nick Collison caught him off-guard and sent the massive forward to the ground, writhing in pain.  The Mavs only have one injury, the aforementioned broken nose that is keeping Rondo out of the Mavs' starting lineup.  As I said before, this may not actually be a good thing for the Clippers, when the Mavericks are rolling like this.
  • Aged Like my Scotch. Jamal Crawford and Dirk Nowitzki are two of three players in the NBA this season that are over 34 years old, and are scoring more than 20 points per 36 minutes.  The third player is Kobe, and he was doing it much less efficiently (True Shooting Percentage of 48% for Kobe vs 57% for Dirk and 54% for Jamal).  The way that these two scorers play ensures that they will age gracefully and be able to bow out of the NBA at their leisure, instead of being forced out.  What a luxury.
  • DeAndre Jordan the Potential All Star. With Blake Griffin sidelined, Damien Lillard of the Trailblazers took his spot in the All Star Game.  Anthony Davis is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury, and should it keep him out past the All Star Game, another player in the West may be able to take his spot.  DeAndre Jordan is first in the NBA in rebounding, first in the NBA in FG%, and second in the NBA in blocks.  If he continues to play the way he's been playing, and if he can step up in Griffin's absence, he may finally get his call up (and we may finally get to see him in the Slam Dunk Competition, which he said he wouldn't join unless he became a regular All Star too).  Clipper fans should keep their eyes on Jordan for the next week, hoping for him to make that push.
  • Hawes is Hawt. (You can thank the official Clipper twitter account for that gem.)  After witnessing the beating the Thunder gave to the Clippers last night, one big question is on the minds of Clipper fans: What will the offense look like without Blake?  Surprisingly, the Clippers were able to score 108 points without their highest scoring player in uniform, and it was largely due to the excellent play of Spencer Hawes, who somehow managed to nearly match Kevin Durant's scoring output in the first half.  He was scoring on everything from baby hooks to three pointers to buzzer-beating-perfect-swish-in-your-face fade aways.  It was beautiful, and the one silver lining that can come out of this injury mess is for Spencer Hawes to find his mojo again.
  • Connections. Not much to add beyond what Steve added the last time, so I'll just recap: 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, was drafted by the Mavs and spent one season in Dallas.
  • Get the Dallas perspective at Mavs Moneyball.
  • Wikipedia reference: Well after the original Maverick series ended, Richard Donner directed a remake and homage to the original, 1994's Maverick.  James Garner returned, but this time as Marshall Zane Cooper, with Mel Gibson as the fastest draw in the West and savvy poker player Bret Maverick, and Jodie Foster as the lovely Ms. Annabelle Bransford.  The film is filled with nods to the original series, as well as dozens of great cameos, often subtle, by actors from other Westerns or films directed by Richard Donner (most obviously a great scene with Danny Glover).  It has a pretty fun ending, and it's certainly worth a watch if you'd never seen it and love westerns (or if you just love pre-crazy Mel Gibson).