With the Clippers having wrapped up a playoff spot and likely to earn themselves the Western Conference’s No. 4 seed for the playoffs, I’ll be going through this week and trying to break-down potential first-round opponents.
It’ll be a five-part series, starting with the defending champion Dallas Mavericks.
As of Monday morning, Dallas sits in seventh place in the West, a half-game behind Denver for sixth, and a game-and-a-half ahead of Utah for eighth. They’ve clinched a spot in the postseason, regardless of seed.
This is a far different team from the one that lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy last June. Sure, you’re still facing the veteran quartet of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion, but, otherwise, this is almost an entirely new group.
The most notable omission from last year’s squad is stalwart center Tyson Chandler manning the paint.
Chandler moved on to New York during the abbreviated offseason, and the Mavericks have had a center rotation consisting primarily of Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi. While both are useful players, neither is Tyson Chandler.
Even without Chandler, Blake Griffin has struggled a bit offensively against Dallas this season. In three games against the Mavericks, Griffin is averaging just over 16 points per game, and hasn’t really been able to find a comfort zone.
Even so, the Clippers are 2-1 against the champs this year.
Even with their fairly pedestrian 36-29 record, Dallas is one of the most stout and disciplined defensive teams in the league.
Despite his advanced age and struggles offensively, Jason Kidd is still a worthy defensive adversary for Chris Paul. He possesses a tremendous size advantage over CP3, and uses that to his advantage very well. If the Clippers are going to beat Dallas, they’re going to have to win the Kidd-Paul matchup in decisive fashion.
As has been the case with the Mavericks for the last decade-plus, the true issue is Dirk Nowitzki. The Clippers don’t really have a player on the roster that can match-up with Dirk.
DeAndre Jordan could likely give Nowitzki some problems due to his crazy length, but he’s comfortable inhabiting the paint. Bringing him out to the perimeter completely opens the rest of the floor up for the rest of the Mavericks.
Griffin will see plenty of time on Dirk, but we know his strengths don’t lie on the defensive end. Plus, like with Jordan, bringing him too far away from the paint can kill the Clippers’ chances on the glass.
Kenyon Martin, Reggie Evans and even Caron Butler may see their share of time trying to check the big German, as well. Vinny Del Negro and company will have to keep their fingers crossed on this one.
Dallas made their magical run through the postseason last year with the solid foundation of Dirk, defense and white-hot three-point shooting.
Don’t be fooled by their relative struggles through this lockout-shortened season. Once the playoffs begin, Rick Carlisle will have this bunch ready to go, once again.
I’d imagine the Clippers would be just fine meeting someone else in the first round.
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.