Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas
When: 4:00 PM Pacific Time
How to watch: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups:
Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Marcin Gortat
Mavericks: Dennis Smith Jr., Wes Matthews, Luka Doncic, Harrison Barnes, DeAndre Jordan
Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute Out (knee), Jerome Robinson Out (ankle)
Mavericks: Luka Doncic Questionable (hip), Dennis Smith Jr Questionable (wrist), Dwight Powell Questionable (knee), Maxi Kleber Questionable (knee), Dirk Nowitzki Out (ankle)
The Big Picture:
Heading into December, the Clippers lead the Western Conference with a 15-6 record. They have won 9 of their last 10 games, with the one loss being a collapse to the Wizards on the third game of a four night stretch. The Clippers’ defense has slipped some in recent weeks, falling to 13th in the NBA, albeit only slightly out of the top 10. Their offense, however, has continued to devastate opponents, and is ranked 4th in the NBA behind only the Bucks, Raptors, and Warriors. The Clippers have done all this without the services of combo forward Luc Mbah a Moute, who has only played four games this season. And, shockingly, their offense still has great room for improvement, as three of the four guards in the Clippers’ rotation – Lou Williams, Avery Bradley, and Pat Beverley – are all shooting well below their career averages. If those guys start to hit more of their threes, the Clippers’ offense should be that much more explosive. The defensive slippage is a bit of a worry, but it’s been better since Avery Bradley returned from injury, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should keep improving as the season goes along.
At 10-10, the Mavericks are right in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference. Interestingly, they rank 11th in both offense and defense, making them a competent if unexceptional squad. But you know who is exceptional? Luka Doncic, the Mavs’ rookie, who somehow fell to the 3rd pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. He’s been as good as advertised and then some, leading the Mavs in scoring and ranking 2nd in assists, all while scoring the ball efficiently. Luka turns the ball over a lot, and his defense isn’t good, but at age 19 he’s putting together a remarkable season. The rest of the Mavs roster is mostly filled with capable veterans: Wes Matthews, Harrison Barnes, JJ Barea, and former Clippers’ star DeAndre Jordan. Rick Carlisle gets the Mavs to play hard each and every night, and they possess one of the rare benches that can match the Clippers’.
- DeAndre Jordan’s first game against the Clippers: This game will mark the first time that DeAndre Jordan has ever played against the LA Clippers. DJ played on the Clippers for the first 10 seasons of his career, and leads the Clippers in many statistical categories. While he’s not the same player he was a few years ago, particularly on defense, DJ is still a nightly threat for a double-double and remains one of the better rim-runners in the NBA. It will be very weird to see him in another uniform playing against the Clips. Expect DJ to come out hard in this one. The Clippers might have trouble keeping him off the boards, and their best bet could be to attack him on defense with Montrezl Harrell and try to get him into foul trouble. This night probably won’t be too emotional: that will probably come when DJ returns to play the Clippers at Staples for the first time.
- Who gets the fifth bench spot in the rotation: While Doc Rivers’ rotation is mostly set, the one changing element has been the fifth bench player alongside Lou, Beverley, Harrell, and Mike Scott. Some games it’s been Milos Teodosic, others it’s been Sindarius Thornwell, and in a few it’s been Tyrone Wallace. The Mavs’ bench is explosive, so Doc could either try to match it in firepower with Milos, or shut it down with Sindarius or Ty.
- Boban: If DJ proves too swift for Marcin Gortat, and too tall for Montrezl Harrell, Doc could roll with Boban to punish the Mavericks. Sure, DJ is a lot quicker and more athletic than Boban, but he can’t shoot, and Boban’s biggest struggles offensively are with stretch big men who draw him away from the basket. This could be a great game to unleash the Boban once more.
- A breakout shooting game for Lou: While Lou Williams has played a vital role in the Clippers’ success this season with his clutch-time heroics and pick and roll playmaking with Harrell, his outside shooting has mostly been off this season. Sweet Lou is shooting under 39% from the field and 33% from three, both of which are far below career norms. He’s getting to his spots as usual, just missing the shots that Clippers’ fans were so used to seeing go in last season. As long as Lou is getting to the free throw line and coming through in the clutch he’s doing his job, but it would be great to see a strong shooting performance from Lou sometime soon. Tonight could be the night, as he will likely have some matchups against Mavs’ reserve guard JJ Barea, who’s someone that Lou should be able to get by and shoot over with ease.
- Shai vs Luka: Luka Doncic technically plays forward for the Mavericks, but he runs their offense a great deal of the time, and is essentially their point forward. While Clippers’ rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t putting up the raw numbers that Doncic is, he’s been incredibly impressive this season as well, and it would be very exciting if the two got matched up against one another for more than a couple possessions. Doncic would be a tricky cover for Shai due to his height and bag of tricks on offense, but Shai is up for the challenge, and his own speed and chance of pace could be tough for Doncic to handle too. Hopefully the two rooks give us a show: they’re both more than capable.
Check out Mavs Moneyball for the Mavs’ perspective, and check back in with us later tonight for the game thread.