Clippers Beat Mavericks in DeAndre Jordan's Return to LA; Luka Doncic Drops 32

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistDecember 21, 2018

Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic (77) shoots past Los Angeles Clippers' Avery Bradley (11) and Montrezl Harrell (5) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Clippers won a clash of struggling Western Conference playoff contenders Thursday at Staples Center with a 125-121 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.

Los Angeles improved to 18-13 overall by snapping a four-game losing streak that dropped it to the No. 6 seed in the playoff picture. The 15-15 Mavericks have also scuffled of late and lost their fourth consecutive game.

Danilo Gallinari led the way for the Clippers with 32 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Lou Williams (26 points and eight assists) and Montrezl Harrell (18 points, six rebounds and four assists) served as secondary playmakers.

Dallas received impressive efforts from Luka Doncic (career-high 32 points, five assists, four rebounds and four steals), J.J. Barea (19 points and eight dimes) and DeAndre Jordan (11 points and 22 boards), but it was to no avail.


Clippers' Only Chance at Contention Is to Improve Interior Defense

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers had strong opinions about Mavericks big man Jordan before he faced his old team at the Staples Center for the first time:

Jovan Buha @jovanbuha

Doc Rivers said he hopes DeAndre Jordan is the first Clipper jersey retired.

Jordan anchored Los Angeles' interior defense the past 10 seasons before joining Dallas, and the team that drafted him in 2008 could use his presence as it battles in the Western Conference playoff race.

Entering Thursday's matchup, the Clippers allowed the fifth-most made field goals within six feet of the basket per game at 20.3, per NBA.com, marking a drastic drop from where they were with Jordan in the paint. By contrast, they allowed 17.4 a night last season and 15.7 in 2016-17 with Jordan, and his ability to protect the rim helped them reach the playoffs in six of the last seven years.

Los Angeles doesn't need to replicate Jordan's exact production as a three-time All-NBA selection and two-time All-Defensive nod to remain in the postseason hunt, but it has to at least take a step in the right direction during the season's second half.

Harrell was the only player on the team averaging more than 0.7 blocks a night entering play, and he is undersized at 6'8" and not someone who can realistically match up with the league's best big men in a playoff series. Boban Marjanovic averages just 11 minutes a night and isn't someone Rivers can consistently turn to for significant playing time as a surefire answer.

The interior defense was a glaring issue during Los Angeles' four-game losing streak prior to this matchup with Jusuf Nurkic (20 points), LaMarcus Aldridge (27 points) and Serge Ibaka (25 points) all exploiting the weakness.

The Western Conference alone is a minefield of talented bigs with Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic, Steven Adams, Clint Capela, Aldridge, Jordan, Marc Gasol, Rudy Gobert and Deandre Ayton, and the Clippers figure to deal with at least some of those playmakers should they find themselves in the playoffs come April.

That's not even mentioning the Golden State Warriors or Los Angeles Lakers, who don't have All-Star big men but will attack the basket when opportunities present themselves.

Los Angeles can't be taken seriously as a contender if the interior defensive issues continue, and the return of Jordan only served to put the concerns under the spotlight.


Barnes' Red-Hot Shooting Further Proof Doncic's Impact Extends Beyond Box Score

There is no doubt Doncic's counting stats have helped him take the league by storm and establish himself as the one to beat in the Rookie of the Year race.

Entering Thursday, he was averaging 18.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game while shooting 35.7 percent from three-point range. He hasn't been intimidated by NBA defenses through the early portion of his career as someone with a Euroleague MVP and championship on his resume at 19 years old, and the box scores have been impressive as a result.

His positionless versatility allows him to play in almost any lineup and score from the perimeter or in the lane with soft touch and craftiness. He is also a facilitator and racks up plenty of assists, but his impact extends beyond the box score with his feel for the game and tendency to make the right pass and read of the defense.

That leads to skip passes and hockey assists as the ball flies around the perimeter and finds open shooters.

Doncic's impact parallels that of a marquee defensive end in the NFL who can create lanes for others to rack up stats just by drawing multiple blockers in his direction. Even if he isn't the one with the assist, that type of attention has created openings for teammates such as Harrison Barnes.

Barnes drilled his first three triples on his way to 16 points against the Clippers, mirroring his red-hot shooting throughout the season.

He connected on 41.7 percent of his threes through the first 25 games, which would be a career-best mark and the second time he surpassed a 39 percent clip since he was drafted in 2012. Barnes scored 30 points on Tuesday against the Denver Nuggets—the third time in December he scored at least 25—and hasn't hesitated to fire at will like in the past.

Barnes shot 4.3 three-pointers a night last season, which was the first time he attempted more than 3.2 throughout an entire campaign. By comparison, he is shooting 6.2 triples a night this season thanks in part to the presence of Doncic on the floor.

Whether the rookie is finding the wingman with his own passes or creating openings, the result has been a three-point barrage. That type of efficient shooting from deep has helped the Mavericks already approach last season's total of 24 wins and serve as a surprise in the playoff race.


What's Next?

Both teams are in action Saturday, with the Mavericks at the Golden State Warriors and the Clippers hosting the Denver Nuggets.


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