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Clippers Begin Six-Game Road Trip in Dallas

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The L.A. Clippers look to continue their best start in franchise history against the struggling Dallas Mavericks

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture

The L.A. Clippers, 13-2, currently hold the best record in the NBA. They have kicked-off their season with the best start in franchise history, and are 6-0 on the road thus far. Per NBA.com, they rank 1st in point-differential (13.3), 1st in Net Rating (13.4), 2nd in Offensive Rating (111.1), 2nd in Defensive Rating (97.7), 2nd in points-per-game (110.0), 3rd in opponent’s points-per-game (96.7), and 9th in defensive rebounds per-game (34.5). And in their only losses this season, against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies (both with winning records), they have only lost by a combined 6 points. It’s still quite early in the season, but let that all sink in for a moment.

The Clippers are not only winning, they are winning in the right ways. For a team that has more-than-once been dubbed “fool’s gold”, has struggled to deliver wins in close games much of the last several years, and has ranked bottom-third in the league in rebounding during basically the entire Lob City era, they are demonstrating levels of intensity, urgency, and consistency that warrant attention. They are playing selflessly and efficiently, through an unrivaled combination of athleticism, depth, and veteran-savvy.

Tonight, they face a familiar foe, but not a formidable one.

The Antagonist

The Dallas Mavericks, 2-11, currently hold the worst record in the NBA. Despite some notable acquisitions in the offseason in Harrison Barnes (via free agency) and Andrew Bogut (via trade), as well as the retention of impact-players in Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams, the Mavericks have struggled to find balance and stay healthy. With the exception of Barnes, all of the aforementioned Mavericks players, in addition to core-contributors J.J. Barea and Devin Harris, have missed time due to injury.

Rick Carlisle, a consummate professional with a great basketball mind (and arguably the league’s second-best coach), has had to face the tall task of trying to find ways to win amidst roster holes and inconsistencies. The games have been close, at times, but the Mavs have typically been out-matched in talent and depth. It certainly doesn’t help, either, that the Mavericks remain in the ever-competitive Western Conference.

Not all hope is lost for the Mavericks, however. With each passing day, they get closer to having a complete roster available and healthy. Barnes, who had a rocky and disappointing start to the season, is progressively beginning to look like the player they gave $94 million to during the summer. He is now averaging 21.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1 assist per-game, and is trending in the right direction. One could attribute his improvement to his usage rate and Carlisle’s ability to get the most out of his players and put them in the best positions to succeed. Barnes, the centerpiece of their current roster, is still shooting only 28.9% from behind the arc, though, despite fitting the typical 3-and-D mould.

At full health, the Mavericks have a capable starting-five, and it’s not like the bottom half of the Western Conference, in terms of Playoff potential, is out-of-grasp at this point.

The Summer of 2015

Get ready for lots of booing and maybe some hacking.

For those not privy to the events which transpired during free agency in the offseason last year, here’s a quick breakdown:

  • DeAndre Jordan agreed, verbally, to sign a max-deal with the Dallas Mavericks. The future appeared bright for Mavericks, and muddled for the Clippers.
  • Days later, Jordan had second thoughts about the move, and made others aware of his thoughts.
  • In a mad-dash, last-minute effort to retain Jordan, several teammates along with coach Doc Rivers and owner Steve Ballmer more-than-encouraged him to remain a Clipper. They arrived at his Houston home to make sure they had dialogue about his value with the team, and sparked a Twitter frenzy chock-full of humorous emojis. Jordan agreed, and signed, to stay in L.A. on a max-deal.
  • Dallas fans felt spurned, it wasn’t a great look for Jordan (or even his former agent), and it offset a series of other free agency moves. The Mavericks organization was frustrated, and rightfully-so. But it was a glorious day for Clippers fans, whose emotions had completely reversed in a matter of hours.

Now, every time Jordan steps out onto the floor, has possession of the ball, or shoots free throws, Mavericks fans jeer with impunity. Combine their disdain for him with their frustrations about how their season has transpired, and it will at least make for great TV (except if he gets hacked a whole lot).

Matchups to Watch

Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews are the lone bright spots for Dallas this season so far. Blake Griffin and Luc Mbah a Moute, who will likely take the lion’s share of guarding Barnes tonight, have been in full-form defensively this season; Griffin and Mbah a Moute are holding opponents to 41% and 41.3% from the field, and 35.7% and 37.1% from behind the arc, respectively. They should have no problem holding Barnes to lower-percentage shooting tonight unless Carlisle can get Barnes into switches where he can benefit from mismatches.

Matthews could be a bit of a factor in tonight’s game; while his shooting numbers are pretty lackluster (32.9 FG%, 31.3 3-pt%), he is a capable shooter and has the potential to score in bunches against opponents. J.J. Redick, who will likely spend the most time defending him, has had some trouble keeping up with larger, quicker guards. Matthews could get hot very quickly, so Redick and Chris Paul will need to communicate carefully on switches and stay close when he comes off of screens.

Bogut, Harris, Nowitzki, and Williams all appear to be game-time decisions, and their playing statuses are really all X-factors in tonight’s game. Planning without knowing whether or not they will play presents some trap-game potential for the Clippers. Bogut is a capable rim-protector and presence in the paint, and Dirk has traditionally scored well against the Clippers. And Williams finally gives them the true facilitator they’ve needed lately on the floor, if he does end up playing.

Either way, the Clippers have been very successful at scoring, defending, and particularly, at drawing fouls this year (1st in the league, at 25.1 per-game); and the Mavericks will either be short-handed or largely on minutes restrictions much of the game. So expect the Clippers to try getting to the rim as much as possible, with Griffin and Jordan each getting a lot of touches.