Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas
When: 5:30 PM PT
How to Watch/Listen: NBA TV, Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Patrick Beverley – Kawhi Leonard – Paul George – Moe Harkless – Ivica Zubac
Mavs: Luka Doncic – Tim Hardaway Jr. – Dorian Finney-Smith – Dwight Powell – Kristaps Porzingis
Clippers: Landry Shamet Out (Ankle)
The Big Picture
The Clippers are rolling. They’ve now won five games in a row, surging to third place in the Western Conference along the way. Boasting top 10 marks in both offense and defense, the Clippers still possess some faults, but look far more capable than they did two weeks ago. Most of that is having Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Even with neither superstar playing to peak capacity in the past few games, and both scoring at a fairly inefficient level (for their standards), they’ve made their marks on games with defense, shot-making, and sheet defensive attention drawn. Everything is easier when playing alongside superstars, and players like Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, and Pat Beverley are finding that out. Matching superb depth with top-tier firepower, the Clippers of the past week look every bit like the NBA title contender they were predicted to be before the season started.
The Mavs, on the other hand, aren’t just meeting expectations – they’re far exceeding them. Predicted to be a fringe playoff team by most pundits, the Mavs have been one of the best teams in the NBA thus far, with a historically good offense. A whole lot of that excellence boils down to one player, Luka Doncic, who is putting together an MVP-caliber season at age 20 in his second NBA season. It’s quite possible Doncic regresses at least a little bit, but he’s made the jump from borderline All-Star to full on superstar in just one season, and looks like he will be one of the best players in the NBA for years to come. The Mavs are more than just a one-trick pony, however. They boast a solid cast of supporting characters as well as one of the best coaches in the NBA in Rick Carlisle, and fit superbly around Luka. They might not be as good as they’ve been thus far (they’ve had one of the easiest schedules in the NBA to this point), but they look pretty legit.
Guarding Luka: Much as with the Rockets and Harden, slowing Luka is the key to stopping the entire apparatus. Just as with Harden, it’s easier said than done. Still, the Clippers have a bevy of large wing players to throw at Luka, with Moe Harkless, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard all likely to get shots at taking on the wunderkind. Rodney McGruder and JaMychal Green could get looks as well, but Doc might be wise to take Pat off Luka – not only is Doncic exceptional at drawing fouls (a danger on the foul-prone Beverley), but he’s been great this year when guarded by smaller players, as he just shoots over the top of them. I’d expect Moe to get first crack, much as he has in recent games as the initial defender on other teams’ top perimeter players. Still, it will be a team effort, and if the Clippers can make like tough for Luka, they should be able to bring in a win.
Paul George’s Three-Point Shooting: After averaging 9.8 threes per game attempted last year, PG is launching 10 per game this season, with an incredible 59.4% of his shots coming from behind the arc. While fans have complained at times about George’s three-happy ways, his ability to get shots off from deep with ease is a blessing to a team that doesn’t have many high-volume three-point shooters, and whose two other main offensive playmakers need the ball in their hands. George has played off the ball a lot, to great success, and while keeping a diverse offensive game is great, if he’s hitting threes at over 40%, he can take as many as he likes. Shockingly, George’s career high for threes in a game is seven, and if he keeps firing away at the rate that he has been, it seems like a lock that record will get shattered this season.
Pat Beverley Heating Up: After resembling a frigid block of ice on the offensive end for the first couple weeks of the season, Beverley has turned things around in a big way the past four games. He’s shot 10-19 from long range in that span, good for over 50%, and is looking more confident in his shot. The looks are also more open than ever playing alongside George and Kawhi, and Beverley is perhaps the player who has benefitted the most from having both superstars back in the lineup. Having PG and Kawhi out there has enabled Beverley to do what he does best, which is all the little things, and he’s pulled in 7.5 rebounds per game in this same stretch, which is incredible for a player his height. Beverley getting back into the swing of things after a couple tough stretches is not surprising, but still great to see.
Check back in later tonight for the game thread!