The 7-4 Los Angeles Clippers will host the 8-6 Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night in a game between two teams that are vying to be among the Western Conference's elites. The Mavs are still the team to beat as the defending NBA Champions, but the Clippers are on the verge.
Dallas hasn't been as dominant as some might have expected to this point in the season, with a record just two games above .500, but the condensed schedule has been difficult to navigate, especially with an older squad. Even so, the Mavericks are a tough team to beat on any given night since they have been to the top of the mountain.
Perhaps no team has been more hyped this season than the Clippers. There is certainly good reason for it, as Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler were added to star power forward Blake Griffin during the regular season. The Clips recently took down the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers in consecutive games, so there is undoubtedly some substance in addition to their style.
Although the Clippers are at home, Dallas is slightly favored due to the possible absence of Paul with a hamstring ailment. If Paul plays, then the Clippers probably have the advantage, but if not, it could be very difficult for Los Angeles to prevail.
Where: STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, Calif.
When: Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 10:30 p.m. EST
Live Stream: NBA League Pass
Listen: KESN 103.3 FM (Dallas) and KSPN 710 AM (Los Angeles)
Betting Line: Dallas (-2.5)
Mavericks Key Injuries (According to CBS Sports)
Out: SG Vince Carter (foot)
Clippers Key Injuries (According to CBS Sports)
Questionable: PG Chris Paul (hamstring), PG Mo Williams (foot), PF Brian Cook (ankle)
What's at Stake?
Both the Mavericks and Clippers are in pretty comfortable positions right now, so I wouldn't say that this game in particular is more important than any other, but the result could say a lot about how the Clippers match up with the Western Conference's best teams. If Paul can't play, though, then the result may not mean much.
The Mavericks have been a bit inconsistent to start the season, but they just had a five-game winning streak snapped in a narrow loss to the Lakers in their last game. A win would get them right back on track, however. The Clippers have beaten some top teams this season in their own right, but they were wiped out by the Utah Jazz last game without Paul. If Paul is out again, they'll want to prove that they can win shorthanded.
What They're Saying
With a record of 8-6, the Dallas Mavericks have done a decent job of navigating through a rigorous early-season schedule. The key to keeping the veteran-laden team fresh has been a consistent usage of the majority of the roster. That is something head coach Rick Carlisle is quite cognizant of, according to Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News.
We don't have anybody averaging more than 31 minutes. Our minutes are very manageable. The key is to make sure that guys are getting enough run in the games to facilitate the conditioning getting better.
It's been very difficult to formulate a set rotation. It's just not working this year because of the season and the roster. And our guys have been great. They understand it.
Mavericks Player to Watch: PF Dirk Nowitzki
None of the Mavericks players' statistics are particularly eye-popping this season due to the fact that so many are rotated into the lineup, but there is no question that power forward Dirk Nowitzki is still the go-to guy. He easily leads the team in scoring with 18 points per game, and he is second in rebounding.
While those numbers are nothing to sneeze at, Dirk may need to start shouldering a bit more of the load moving forward if the Mavs are going to get back to last season's level. If Nowitzki were playing 10 more minutes per game, then I think his numbers would be drastically better, but it's important to do as much as he can in 30 minutes. On the offensive end, Dirk will be the key to Dallas' success in this game.
Clippers Player to Watch: PF Blake Griffin
Since I would have to think that point guard Chris Paul is going to be out again after his hamstring injury caused him to sit out last night's game in Utah, most of the offensive burden will fall on Blake Griffin in this game. Griffin is already a bona fide stud, as he is averaging 22 points and 11.4 rebounds per contest, but he needs to get the job done without Paul.
Any talented big man can put up big numbers with Paul running the point and feathering perfect passes into the paint, but it takes a very special player to do it without a ton of help. Griffin proved that he was capable of that as a rookie last season, so he should be able to do the same against the Mavericks.
Key Matchup: Jason Kidd vs. Chauncey Billups
Point guards Chris Paul and Mo Williams each missed the Clippers' last game on Tuesday night, and with no time to rest before tonight's game, I'm not sure either will be able to suit up against the Mavs. If that is the case, then veteran Chauncey Billups will likely assume the point guard role. He may be the shooting guard in name, but Billups would handle most of the ball distribution duties.
Although he has gotten some help from Delonte West this season, the ageless Jason Kidd is still the quarterback of the Mavericks offense. Neither Billups nor Kidd possess the same skills that they once did, but both are still very effective players. Whichever player is better at getting his teammates involved could very well be the difference in the game.
Mavericks 98, Clippers 88