PREGAME REPORT | MARCH 26, 2013
Tipoff: 6:30 p.m. PST | American Airlines Center | Dallas, TX | Game Notes »
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DALLAS – After practice Monday morning, before the Clippers departed to the nation’s fastest-growing metroplex for game one of a four-game, five-night road trip, Chris Paul said, “It all starts in Dallas.”
His remark was both a matter of fact, but also somewhat of a rallying point for the final 12 games of the regular season. The Clippers (48-22) are amidst their winningest season in franchise history, yet through the first 70 games they remain in a near dead heat for the critical No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. They benefitted from unexpected losses by Denver and Memphis on Monday, moving them a game up in the loss column on both teams.
“I think this will be a good test for us the fact that we’re on the road,” Paul said. “I’m sure at some point on this trip we’ll be down, the crowd’s probably going to be against us in every city we go in, so it’s going to be some big games for us.”
As the perennial MVP candidate mentioned, the trip begins against a Dallas team, in the fourth game of a six-game home stand and just 1.5 games out of the No. 8 spot in the West. The Mavericks (34-36) are 21-13 since falling a season-low 10 games under .500.
“I think they’re just playing with a little more confidence,” Paul said of Dallas.
The Clippers defeated the Mavericks twice at Staples Center already, including a 22-point win Dec. 5, the fourth victory of their franchise-record 17-game winning streak.
For Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro, though, Dallas is a much different team now than they were two months ago.
“They have to play, like everybody right now, with a sense of urgency,” Del Negro said. “Obviously, Dirk [Nowitzki] missed a big part of the season at the beginning, so it set them back. But other guys have been stepping up. Shawn Marion’s playing, and he’s been out. [Chris] Kaman is playing now. So, they’ve got their team back now. [Darren] Collison hurt in last time in transition. We’ve got to do a better job there. Dirk can make shots, so can Vince [Carter]. We’ve just got to be ready with our defensive intensity, our game plan and execute it well.”
LAST TIME OUT
Clippers 101, Nets 95: Paul took over in the fourth quarter, accounting for 21 of the Clippers’ 31 points to lead a rally from an eight-point third quarter deficit Saturday for their third win in a row at home. He scored 17 points in the period and had two of his 11 assists.
“Unbelievable,” said Jamal Crawford of Paul’s performance.
“I just tried to be aggressive in the ball screen and push the ball,” said Paul, who finished with 29 points. “Luckily, we got into the bonus early which gave me the opportunity to attack, made them grab ahold of me and just try to get to the free throw line as much as possible.”
Paul went 12-of-13 from the foul line. Crawford, who scored 13 points off the bench, helped seal the game with a steal and breakaway dunk that put L.A. up by four with 48 seconds to go. Willie Green matched his season-high with 15 points and DeAndre Jordan scored 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting with 12 rebounds and three blocks.
Mavericks 113, Jazz 108: The host Mavericks scored 89 points over the final three quarters Sunday to draw even with Utah in the standings and move within two games of the West’s eighth and final playoff spot. Seven players scored in double-figures for Dallas, including 19 from point guard Mike James and 17 from Dirk Nowitzki. James had seven of his points as part of 20-2 run between the third and fourth quarter that Dallas an 18-point lead with 9:55 to go.
Utah battled back to close within three after a 3-point play by Gordon Hayward in the final seconds, but they ultimately lost for the eighth time in their last 10 games. Paul Millsap went 7-for-11 from the floor and finished with 15 points and a team-high nine rebounds.
Blake Griffin vs. Dirk Nowitzki. Griffin has averaged 16.6 points and 13.2 rebounds in his last five games against the Mavericks. Granted, Nowitzki did not play in one of those games as he was recovering from offseason knee surgery. Still, in the four games the 11-time All-Star has played against Griffin since the start of last year, he’s shot just 38% from the floor.
Lately, Nowitzki seems to have found his groove. He’s averaging 20 points in his last five games, shooting 64.4%. The matchup with Nowitzki forces Griffin to guard him on the perimeter because as Del Negro said, “Dirk can really shoot it.” But it’s something Griffin has shown the ability to do with even greater frequency this season. The key for Griffin may be staying out of early foul trouble. In three games this month, he has accumulated two fouls in the first quarter, playing a total of 20 first-quarter minutes in those outings.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The benches. For months, the Clippers had arguably the most dynamic bench in the league, affecting games on both ends of the floor. But over the last 10 games, the Mavericks have led the NBA in bench scoring (46.8 points per game). While the Clippers remain fourth in the league in scoring production off the bench, Dallas with a stable of veterans has overtaken the top spot.
Vince Carter, who is shooting 40.9% from 3-point range, Darren Collison, and former Clippers Elton Brand and Chris Kaman are all averaging better than 6.6 points per game off the bench in the last 10.
“They’re a team that’s very versatile,” Butler said. “They’ve got a lot of different dilemmas for our ball club. We’ve got to rebound the ball, protect the paint, get out in transition and try to impose our will on the game and just play our style of basketball.”
“Mike James is somebody who’s really being assertive, playing really well,” Paul said. “He’s a gym rat.” The Mavericks are 8-3 since James was inserted into the starting lineup on Mar. 6.
Chauncey Billups (strained right groin) remains a game-time decision, according to Del Negro… The Clippers have a magic number of four to clinch their first-ever Pacific Division title… Crawford has made 20 free throws in a row. He already owns the Clippers record as he made 57 straight in November and December… Dallas signed Justin Dentmon to a 10-day contract Monday. He is expected to be in uniform against the Clippers… The Mavericks are 15-4 at home when leading after the first quarter… The Clippers are 13-5 in their last 18 games, matching Oklahoma City and San Antonio for the fourth best record in the NBA over that span.
Butler on the perception of the Clippers: “We’re an organization and a team that became rather good so fast that you’ve got to continue to point out the bad things that we do instead of putting the emphasis on some of the good things that we do. And we’re cool with that. It comes with the territory. We’re just happy people are still talking about us at this time of year.”