(Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images)
Earl K. Sneed previews the Dallas Mavericks' home matchup Monday night against Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers in a potential prelude to the playoffs.
Preview: Clippers (31-21) at Mavericks (30-23)
On the heels of perhaps their most galvanizing win of the season, the Dallas Mavericks return to the court Monday night looking to build momentum as the stretch run to the playoffs continue.
But with the Los Angeles Clippers set to host the Mavericks (30-23) in a four-versus-five opening round series if the playoffs were to begin Monday, the defending champions begin their three-game homestand looking to both close the 1 1/2 games between the two squads while also trying to move up the Western Conference standings in the final 13 games of the regular season.
"Well, the playoffs don't begin today. There's a lot to be decided," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after the team's Sunday practice. "And this week is going to go a long way towards a lot of those scenarios. But the Clippers have been a quality, high-level team all year. Like everybody, they've had their ups and downs, but they're a tough matchup for us and they've been a tough matchup for everyone they've played."
After two matchups that have gone down to the wire between the Mavericks and Clippers, you can expect more of the same Monday night at the American Airlines Center. Suffering a last-second 91-89 loss in L.A. on Jan. 18, the Mavericks bounced back and outlasted the Clippers (31-21) back in Dallas en route to a 96-92 victory on Feb. 13.
"The Mavericks are a good team," All-Star forward Blake Griffin added, "especially at home. We didn’t execute down the stretch and that’s what did it.”
"I'll take us over anybody in a fourth-quarter type ballgame and I believe we'll come out winning more times than not," Mavs reserve Jason Terry empathically proclaimed after the second matchup.
Monday night, while expecting another dogfight, the Mavericks will try to repeat the latter when Griffin and Chris Paul lead the Clippers, who are on a their first six-game winning streak in 10 years, back into Dallas’ backyard.
The Mavs will also try to build of their come-from-behind 100-98 victory in Orlando Friday night, when the team bounce back from a disappointing showing in Miami the night prior and overcame a 15-point deficit in the second half to win on Dirk Nowitzki's game-winning shot off the glass with 5.9 seconds left.
“Well, I think we dodged a couple of bullets. I think it could have gone either way down the stretch. But tie game, you know, it’s a fun situation to be in,” Nowitzki explained of the final sequence. “If you miss it, you still have time to grab a rebound or at least go to overtime with a stop. ... I tried to lean back and create a little separation and Hedo [Turkoglu] was up on it pretty good, actually. So, I just tried to get it up over him and got it up in the air. I found the glass and it went in.”
"Well, it gives us one in the left column and one less in the right column. That's the biggest thing it does," Carlisle added. "I love the way we hung in. It was a very difficult game. You get in a 15-point hole against one of the Florida teams and you dig it out and win, that's a big deal. But now, being home, we've gotta huge week here and we've gotta pick our game up and we've gotta be good at home."
But after starting center Brendan Haywood returned from a seven-game absence with a sprained right knee and new addition Delonte West rejoined the lineup against Miami following a fractured right ring finger that had kept him out since Feb. 13, the Mavericks could once again be a man down against the Clippers after fellow newcomer Lamar Odom left Friday's game with a 102-degree fever.
Odom's status for Monday night is still unclear after the versatile forward also missed Sunday's practice. Still, if the defending champs are going to move to 2-1 in the season series then they must first find a way to slow down ex-Maverick Caron Butler, who was presented with his championship ring before scorching his former team for 23 points on 7-of-18 from the field in the last meeting between the two teams.
"I was in a real good place and it felt good. I just really wanted to come back and step on this floor, one way or another, and just show the fans that I was back healthy. There was a lot of love out there, and I appreciate that because they got me through a trying time last year,” Butler said.
The Mavs will also try to reverse their fortunes after the Clippers outshot the home team, 44.6 percent to 44.3 percent, in addition to a 50-36 rebounding advantage. In that game the Mavs overcame a surprisingly sluggish outing as well from Nowitzki, who battled foul trouble to hit just 5-of-15 from the field but connected on 11-of-15 at the foul line to finish with a team-high 22 points with 11 coming in the fourth.
But the 11-time All-Star admits that can't be the case the third time around if the Mavs hope to make up a full game on the Clippers in the standings.
“I had some shots I’ve got to make and I missed four free throws. Obviously, the early foul trouble didn’t help my rhythm much, but I had some looks I’ve just gotta make. I didn’t really have a great rhythm there, but we had enough stops and we got a little lucky at the end,” Nowitzki said of his night.