Earl K. Sneed previews the Mavericks' Tuesday night matchup with Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers. It is the first matchup of a four-game homestand for the Mavs.
DALLAS — After an active Monday afternoon, the Mavericks kick-start a four-game homestand with a bang Tuesday night by welcoming in the runaway favorite for Rookie of the Year, Blake Griffin, and the Los Angeles Clippers, who have been one of the NBA’s hottest squads of late.
But don’t expect to see new addition Peja Stojakovic just yet.
The Mavericks (28-15) wheeled and dealt Monday, bringing in Stojakovic as a free-agent signing after he reached a buyout and was subsequently waived by the Toronto Raptors last week. Before bringing in the sharpshooter, however, the Mavericks needed to make room on their roster. So, they shipped big man Alexis Ajinca, a second-round draft pick and cash considerations to Toronto in exchange for the draft rights to Georgios Printezis.
Now, with Stojakovic officially a Maverick, coach Rick Carlisle says that the focus shifts from bringing the 12-year vet on board to getting him in game shape. The 40-percent career 3-point shooter hasn’t played since suffering a minor knee injury on Nov. 26.
“There’s gonna be a period where we’re gonna have to make sure his conditioning and health is right before we put him on the floor,” Carlisle said. “I don’t know what that period of time is gonna be, but I think it’s important to understand that this is not a turnkey thing and now you have a starter. There’s gonna be a process involved, there’s gonna be a period of time for integration and dealing with whatever health issues remain and conditioning. He hasn’t played a game in six or seven weeks.”
And with the former three-time All-Star integrating himself into the fold, the Mavericks will try to turn their attention to the first-year phenom that has captivated the league this season.
Griffin is seeking to become the first rookie since Shaquille O’Neal in the 1992-93 season to average 21 points and 12 rebounds. Proving to be far more than just highlight reel dunks and rebounds, Griffin further cemented himself as a budding superstar when he produced a league-high 47-point performance, along with 14 rebounds, against the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 17 to spark a 114-107 win.
“He’s done everything,” Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd said of Griffin. “He’s rebounded, he’s scored and consistency is maybe the biggest thing as a rookie. And he’s shown that with the stats that he’s put up this season … He plays hard and he has that Karl Malone-type game where he’s physical. I don’t know if Karl Malone played above the rim like that when he was his age, but I think he’s a guy who comes to play every night. And as a rookie, you don’t find that that much in this league and he’s doing it.”
But the former No. 1 overall pick who was forced to sit out a year with a knee injury totaled just 16 points and nine rebounds in a 99-83 home loss to the Mavericks on Oct. 31, shooting 4-of-15 on the night in the first of four regular-season meetings between the two squads.
Still, the Mavericks know that the former Oklahoma standout will be a handful. As will the entire Clippers squad, after reeling off seven wins in their last 10 games.
“They’re a completely different team than when we saw them last time. Their last 10 of 15 games, they’ve been winning able 70 percent of the time. And they’re extremely athletic, they’ve gotten better offensively and defensively, and they present major problems on the boards, in large part because of Griffin,” Carlisle said.
Fortunately for the Mavericks, the Clippers (17-26) will be without leading scorer Eric Gordon, who didn’t travel to Dallas due to a sprained right wrist.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks are returning home following an 87-86 win in New Jersey on Saturday night, which was capped off by leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki’s game-winning jumper with 6.0 seconds remaining. Despite shooting just 7-of-24 on the night in his fifth game back from a sprained right knee that kept the nine-time All-Star sidelined for nearly three weeks, Carlisle says he trusted that Nowitzki would come through with the game on the line. And the 7-footer did not disappoint.
Carlisle also admits that he wouldn’t hesitate to put the ball back in Nowitzki’s hands if the game comes down to the final seconds again Tuesday night.
“When it comes down to it, there’s really only one place to go in that situation. I know he wasn’t shooting the ball well (Saturday night), but I felt like he’d get a matchup where he’d get a clean look,” Carlisle explained.
The Dallas defense did the rest, forcing a stop in the final seconds to help the team move to 2-1 since ending a six-game losing streak. And now the Mavericks believe that they are once again beginning to click on all cylinders, as was the case when the squad began the season with a 24-5 start.
“Winning with a Dirk jumper, that’s old times for us and we remember those times real well. And then a stop with your defense to win it, that’s huge for us,” sixth man Jason Terry said.
“We hope that our mojo is kind of coming back the way that we started the season, winning close games,” Kidd added. “And that last game in New Jersey could have easily went the other way.”
The team returns home looking to ride the momentum of the last-second win and hoping to continue playing inspired basketball since last Wednesday night’s 109-100 home victory over the two-time defending champion L.A. Lakers. They’ll take the court Tuesday night in search of a second victory against a Staples Center co-tenant, as the Mavs start a stretch of four straight games at the American Airlines Center.
“We’ve got to fight to get it back on track,” Nowitzki said. “It’s good we have a nice little homestand where our crowd can push us forward again and hopefully we can get some big wins. So, it’s definitely what the doctor ordered — get some home games and get back on track.”
Note: The Mavericks return to Dallas to face Rookie of the Year favorite Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night. The Clippers-Mavericks showdown will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting the American Airlines Center box office, logging on to Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287).
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