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Clippers-Mavs Preview: Cole continues his late season MVP push

Doc says he will play his starters for today's matinee against a hot but injury-riddled Dallas squad. Will a vintage Blake game reassure Clipper nation that the core four can still reach the heights of last year? Also, is it possible Dallas could be a first round matchup?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

2015-16 NBA Regular Season

Dallas Mavericks (41-38)

Los Angeles Clippers (51-28)
April 9, 2016 — 12:30 PM PST
The House that Aldrich Built AKA Staples Center  Los Angeles, California
Prime Ticket, NBATV, KEIB 1150 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown ('15-'16)
41-38 Record 51-28
15-15 East 22-8
26-23 West 29-20
23-17 Home 27-12
18-21 Road 24-16
13-26 .500+ 18-20
28-12 .500– 33-8
7-3 L10 8-2
Projected Starters
J.J. Barea (questionable) PG Chris Paul
Wes Matthews SG J.J. Redick
Justin Anderson SF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
The Great Dirk Nowitzki PF Blake Griffin
Zaza Pachulia C DeAndre Jordan
Efficiency Stats ('15-'16)
96.5 (22nd) Pace 97.9 (16th)
104.9 (9th) OffRtg 106.5 (6th)
104.3 (16th) DefRtg 101.1 (6th)
0.6 (13th) NetRtg 5.3 (5th)
Injury Report

Deron Williams (Abdominal)--Out

Chandler "I can't believe I wasn't in the Entourage movie" Parsons (Knee)--Out

Austin Rivers (Ankle)--Questionable

Wes Johnson (Plantar Fascitis)--Questionable

The Big Picture

Fresh from their almost guiltily unexpected victory in Utah on Friday, the Clippers will face yet another opponent taking the end of the season much more seriously than they are. Despite Cole's "I make Hakeem look like Ryan Hollins" performance against the Jazz, Doc has told the media that he plans to spare the Mavs and play the full slate of starters for the Sunday matinee.

Expect to see Chris, Blake, D.J and J.J. log significant minutes. Today's game will likely be the second to last opportunity for the core four to play together before the postseason begins. The team finishes with a back-to-back Tuesday and Wednesday against the Grizzlies and Suns. Doc will very likely play the starters only one of those games (likely on Tuesday at home).

At the top of every Clipper fans' wish list (beside a Spurs home victory Monday) would be a vintage Blake game. Griffin showed flashes of his former self against the Lakers, but let's be honest--Roy Hibbert could show flashes of his former self against the Lakers. Actually, that's a bad example. A good Blake game against a quality opponent like Dallas--especially one in which his jumper is working--would reassure fans that the team is capable of reaching the level of play it displayed in last year's postseason.

The Antagonist

The Mavs are hot, riding the Dirk express (or at his age, the Dirk commuter bus) to a 6-game win streak and a soon-to-be clinched postseason berth. The fighting Carlisles have a magic number of one--any win or Houston loss over the next three games seals Dirk's 15th playoff appearance. While some star veterans who will not be named have singlehandedly sunk the franchise they are synonymous with through ego and absurd contracts handed to them by Jimmy Bus, Dirk's on and off-the-court selflessness has gifted Dallas nearly two decades of competitive basketball--and a ring. Dirk is planning on returning next season--I'm glad today's game won't be his last as Staples.

It is possible Dallas could leap to the five seed and today's matchup could be a preview for the Clippers' first round playoff opponent. But that seems unlikely, as either Dallas would have to sweep it's last three games (including today) if Portland wins it's last game of the season Wednesday in Denver. That also assumes the collapsing Grizzlies continue to collapse. Despite an enduring respect for Dirk and the unavoidable DJ-related media hype involved in a playoff series against Dallas, I feel safe in saying most of Clipper nation would rather face an injury-riddled Mavs team than the young and hungry Blazers.