It’s been a long time since the Clippers faced the Dallas Mavericks way back on Halloween. Then the Clippers had Chris Kaman in the starting line-up instead of DeAndre, Blake was good but hadn’t really started his historic ascension, Baron hadn’t been injured and then reclaimed. Bledsoe and Aminu were enigmatic draft picks and not a viable and developing second unit that they are now. The team as a whole played catastrophically bad defense. Basically, the only player that was playing well was Eric Gordon who scored 22 and 19 points in the two game before facing the Mavs, but even EJ was having a hard time finding his outside shot. And now the Clippers may or may not have EJ on the court due to injury.
The Mavs have seen their team change, too. Caron Butler lit up the Clippers in the first meeting, but he’s out for the year now and the Mavs are seeing more from Shawn Marion at small forward. Marion has been good in years past, but he’s old now and not nearly the player he was when he played in Phoenix. Not to mention that Dirk hasn’t rounded into the MVP caliber shape that he was showing before his knee injury and the team has suffered from it. The Mavs are only 3-7 in their last ten games and lost 7 of 9 when Dirk was out.
The Mavericks poor play is cause for excitement, but the Clippers’ only two recent losses have been on the road, against less than dominant opponents so it’s not exactly as if they are perfectly primed to take advantage of the Mavs. Yes, the Clippers are playing much better of late, but they haven’t shown the necessary discipline while traveling to have sustained success. The only convincing win on the road this entire year was against the Pistons, because in both the Sacramento and Chicago road wins Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose missed free throws to come back against the Clippers. Those games would have been better described as survivals than wins.
What has been most unnerving, for me at least, is the Clippers inability to stay focused in the games. I like that there is still effort when the Clippers play, but they become discombobulated when the game goes into the second half (including the Sac and Chi wins). Even recently, in the game against Portland, they were within 3 points with only a five minutes remaining in the game and they lost by 15? Those are the types of lapses that they can’t allow.
After the Golden State game Baron elaborated on this:
“On the road I think it’s more so our turnovers, execution down the stretch… we’re a young team getting in hostile environments sometimes you try to make the same plays that you do at home and we’ll be a little more conscious of our turnovers.”
In addition to the difference in the types of plays that the young Clippers try to make when they are at home and on the road, I think that there is also a reaction by the players that needs to improve. At home they have the safety of the supportive environment, so if they do make the mistake, little reaction will be made. On the road they have to maintain their confidence so that they don’t wilt.
I do like the way the Clippers are talking. Baron said the game against Dallas will “be a good for us, playing against a team like that, being a playoff tested team.” The shift in attitude, looking at the tough road games as a challenge, is much better than viewing the games as an inevitable hardship. If the Clippers can pull off a win tonight (and maybe tomorrow?), it’ll be huge steps in the attempt to do the unthinkable: make the playoffs. Something that few would have thought possible back on Halloween.
Keys to the Game:
- Tyson Chandler v. Blake Griffin. One is a center and one a power forward, but I’ll guarantee that there will be plenty of possessions where Tyson Chandler guards Blake Griffin. Chandler had success in the first meeting, holding Blake to 4 for 15 shooting, but Blake has improved immensely since then. But even with his leaps in improvement, Blake can still struggle against length (his 1 for 9 first half against Pau and the Lakers and his 6 for 17 performance against LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trail Blazers), but Blake’s passing provides a serious threat and may earn him a little more space from the help defenders.
- Caring for the basketball. The Clippers have committed more turnovers (702) this year than any other team besides the Minnesota Timberwolves (753). The Dallas Mavericks have fewer turnovers (583) than every team other than the Bobcats (573) and the Bobs have played one fewer game. The Clippers have had their difficulties on the road this year, only 3-13 traveling, and giving up 3 more turnovers than the Mavericks will make their goal even more difficult.
- It doesn’t sound like EJ will play, so Foye, Baron, Bledsoe and maybe Rasual or Willie Warren will be asked to kick in a bigger contribution.
Eric Gordon right wrist, game-time decision (doubtful)
Chris Kaman left ankle, out
Craig Smith herniated disc, out
Rodrigue Beaubois fractured left foot, out
Caron Butler ruptured right patella tendon, out