The Big Picture:
The Clippers are having some mid-season injury blues, which is something that they probably would have liked to avoid, following early-season lethargy that gave them 5 losses (4 of them easily avoidable) in a 7-game stretch. Now, they’ll have to keep pace despite injuries in a tight race at the top of the Western Conference. Golden State has just 4 losses, San Antonio has 6, and the Clippers and Houston Rockets have 8 apiece. There’s a pretty sturdy buffer between Houston and the next batch of teams, so for now the Clippers are only worrying about keeping the Rockets at bay and passing the Spurs for second-round home-court advantage. It’s not going to be an easy stretch without Blake Griffin (knee surgery), but the upcoming schedule suggests it’s doable. Only 4 of the Clippers’ 17 games that occur between now and January 27th are against teams that presently sit above .500. The schedule has some dense pockets, but if they can take care of business against the teams that they should beat, they’ll survive this stretch.
What’s up with the Mavs? They’re just 8-21 on the season, and while we knew they wouldn’t be good, I wasn’t ready for them to be bad. Even last year with a bare-bones roster, Rick Carlisle put in a disciplined system and won 42 games. Still, they might have reason for a little bit of optimism. An awful 0-5 stretch and an early 8-game losing streak left them at 2-13 late in November. So they’re 6-8 since then, which is still far from good but is maybe starting to look like a team that could be turning it around. And the 8-seed in the West is weak—Dallas, tied for last place, isn’t too far behind the 13-18 Portland Trail Blazers. The Mavericks probably don’t have it in them to go on the winning streak they’d need to get back into playoff contention, but they’re far from your typical hopeless last-place team.
Rather than going fully into sub-plots and connections, I want to just point out one major one: the Clippers’ backup point guard. Felton was a stud for the Mavericks last season, posting 9.5 points, 3.6 assists, and 3.2 rebounds in 27 minutes a night. He started 31 games and ended up being one of the Mavericks’ best players in the playoffs, starting 4 of 5 games and averaging 15 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 4.6 assists in 34 minutes. Obviously Raymond doesn’t have that big of a role on the Clippers, but with Chris Paul battling a hamstring strain, he could have a chance to see extended minutes—or even start—against his old team.
Chris Paul is listed as questionable with a left hamstring strain. He left last night’s game against the Spurs and did not return.
Blake Griffin is out as he recovers from knee surgery earlier this week. He will probably miss about another month.
Brice Johnson still hasn’t played this season as he recovers from a herniated disc in his back. His return is still uncertain.
Dirk Nowitzki will play tonight in just his 6th game of the season after struggling with a strained right Achilles.
Andrew Bogut is out tonight with a knee injury, so the Clippers have one less source of cheap shots to worry about.
J.J. Barea is listed as questionable for Dallas with a right leg muscle strain.