Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 7:30 PM PT
How to watch: TNT
Projected Starting Lineups:
Mavericks: Dennis Smith Jr. – Wes Matthews – Luka Doncic – Harrison Barnes – DeAndre Jordan
Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Avery Bradley – Tobias Harris – Danilo Gallinari – Marcin Gortat
Mavericks: Dennis Smith Jr. Questionable (wrist), Maxi Kleber Questionable (toe)
Clippers: Lou Williams Questionable (hamstring), Luc Mbah a Moute Out (knee), Jerome Robinson Out (ankle)
The Big Picture:
The Clippers’ tumble down the standings continues, as their 2-7 record over their last nine games has pushed them down to 6th in the Western Conference, and 4 games out of 1st place. They’re still 1.5 games up on 8th place, but the gap is closing, and fast, particularly with the red-hot Rockets right behind them. Their Net Rating, too, continues to drop, as it’s now a mere 0.5, placing them 16th in the NBA. Basically, their play on the whole this season puts them as a fringe playoff team, which sounds about right. Still, the Clippers are playing short-handed right now, down their best scorer/shot creator in Lou Williams as well as their most versatile defender in Luc Mbah a Moute. If they’re able to get fully healthy, they should be quite a bit better, if not as good as they were for much of November.
The Mavericks remain one of the more surprising teams in the NBA. With a 15-14 record, they are right in the middle of the playoff mix, which is rather surprising considering how bad they’ve been the past couple seasons. Still, the addition of Luka Doncic has been massive, as the rookie leads them in scoring, and is second on the team in both assists and rebounds per game. DeAndre Jordan’s defense has fallen off, but his ability to collect rebounds and rim-run on offense has still helped the Mavs, as has Wes Matthews’ bounceback season. The Mavs are a dangerous team, with a relatively stout defense and a solid-enough offense that has many weapons. They probably don’t have the talent to make the playoffs in the West as is, but who knows with Rick Carlisle as coach.
- DJ’s return: The Clippers have played DJ already this season, and he’s been in Staples already as well, but this will be his first game against the Clippers at the familiar venue. DJ leads the Clippers’ franchise record books in games played, blocks, and rebounds, and is top 10 in virtually every statistical category imaginable. He’s simply one of the best players to ever don a Clippers’ jersey, and was a fan favorite as well due to his athleticism, wide smile, and long tenure with the team. Expect a lengthy tribute video (perhaps something else as well), and at least a couple standings ovations for the longtime Clipper. As for the game itself, DJ torched the Clippers’ in his first meeting against them, grabbing 23 rebounds, including a crucial putback late in the game. The Clippers are no closer to stopping large, athletic centers than they were a couple weeks ago, so prepare for another big game from DJ.
- No changes to starting lineup: After teasing the possibility of changing his starting lineup after the Clippers’ loss Monday night, Doc said on Wednesday that it won’t change, at least for tomorrow (though it sounded like he’s pretty set on it for a while to come). This remains confusing. The Clippers’ starting lineup has put them in major deficits in most of their losing streak, and the problems aren’t ones that appear to be fixable. I understand if he doesn’t want to move out Gortat: Boban clearly isn’t an every-game player, Montrezl Harrell is in his element in his current role, and Johnathan Motley and Angel Delgado are unproven G-Leaguers. However, Doc has several other options to play over Avery Bradley, with one of them (Pat Beverley) having already proven he can fit with the other starters, as seen in their 5-1 stretch when Bradley was out in November. The Clippers can win with their current starting unit, but it puts them at a disadvantage game after game due its lack of shooting, creating, and passing.
- Shai vs. Luka: Last time, the exciting showdown between Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luka Doncic didn’t occur because Luka missed the game with an injury. That seems unlikely to happen this time, and it will be fascinating to watch the two young guys go against each other. They might not guard each other much (Luka technically plays forward, while Shai is a guard, so they’ll be matched on other guys), but every time they do, it will be a fun look into the future of the league. It’s interesting that the Mavs have put all their eggs in the Doncic basket, letting him run the team and giving him full playmaking responsibilities, while the Clippers have played Shai off-ball much more. Now, the Clippers do have several players in Gallinari, Tobias Harris, and Lou Williams who are all better offensive players than anyone else on Dallas, but the Mavs’ success is a reminder that letting rookies do their thing can pay off sometimes. Hint: I’d like to see Shai handle the ball a lot more than he does right now.
- Lou questionable: Lou Williams is close to returning, and not a moment too soon. He’s missed the past four games, all Clippers’ losses, and his ball-handling, shooting, and passing are all desperately needed by the struggling Clips. His return will, however, put Doc Rivers in a bit of a rotation bind, as Bradley, Shai, and Beverley are all firmly ensconced in the rotation, while Ty Wallace has perhaps been the Clippers’ most consistent player over the past week or so. Will Doc move Ty out of the rotation, will he lessen all of the guard’s minutes to get Lou back in, or will he do something else? We will see, but let’s hope Lou and Ty get some minutes together, because that duo provides a lot of positive things for the Clippers.
Check back in for the game thread later today, and look in at Mavs Moneyball for the Mavs perspective!