The Dallas Mavericks (16-10) are back home to host the Los Angeles Clippers (16-10) Wednesday night for a 7:30 p.m. CT tip-off on Bally Sports Southwest and Bally Sports Plus. The Mavericks continue to battle key injuries and need a bounce back victory at the AAC after dropping two of their last three, losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Denver Nuggets.
The Clippers, on the other hand, are red hot. Winners of eight straight including a 151-127 victory against the Indiana Pacers on Monday night. After losing six straight just after their trade for James Harden, the Clippers did a full 180 and gone 13-3 since November 17, including wins against the Nuggets, Knicks, Warriors, Kings, and the Mavericks (a 107-88 win in Los Angeles). Here’s what we’ll watch for in their third clash of the season.
Stopping a freight train
There is little doubt the Clippers are on a tear, second to only the Timberwolves in win percentage since November 17, when this 13-3 run began. Los Angeles also sports the fifth best offensive rating in that time at 120.6, the best rating in the Western Conference. The Mavericks, who have gone 7-7 in that same span, rank 17th in offensive rating.
That’s troubling for Wednesday’s bout. The Mavericks have hung their hat on outscoring teams, and simply don’t currently have the defensive firepower to slow down an offense so potent — especially when they’ll be without center Dereck Lively. During the eight-game streak James Harden and the Clippers are averaging 126 points per game, including three of the last four where they’ve scored 132, 121, 144, and 151 points. They’ve been a league best 42.1 percent from three in December. If the Mavericks can’t relocate their shot this could be a long night. And about that…
Finding their shot
The key supporting trio this season of Tim Hardaway Jr., Grant Williams, and Derrick Jones Jr. have shot the three at times, as Hardaway once put it, like “the basket was the ocean”. They’ve made good on the gravity and space afforded to them by Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving’s playmaking.
Each has missed a game here and there recently due to injury, and their absence was felt. But in their return they’ve collectively gone ice cold. Hardaway and Williams reclaimed their spots in the rotation against the Los Angeles Lakers last week and came roaring back: Hardaway went 5-of-10 from three and Williams a lethal 5-of-7 from deep. Dante Exum’s heroics in the fourth secured the win but that duo’s contributions were massive. When Jones returned in the next game, against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the script flipped. In these last three games, where the Mavericks have gone 1-2 and dropped two spots in the standings, this trio has shot a startlingly 12-of-60 from deep. You are reading that correctly. This really drives home point one above, and how important it will be for this group to rediscover their rhythm. With Irving still out, their impact is even more vital.
Dante Exum entered the starting lineup in Irving’s absence, and while the Australian guard hasn’t fully replicated the stat line of Kyrie his performance has been more than admirable in those seven games. The most recent six games have been particularly impressive, posting a stat line of 18 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists, while managing just 1.7 turnovers per game in a rapidly increased role. Pairing that with Doncic, who has been otherworldly of late has stabilized the offense. Luka has averaged 36.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 10.7 assists in the same six-game stretch.
It took a bit for the Clippers to recalibrate after adding Harden to the fold. But since the introductory six game skid it’s hard to deny the potential. This isn’t the MVP Harden which is no surprise; but a Harden that has averaged 20.1 points, five rebounds, and 9.8 assists while shooting 49-percent from three during this win streak is not a bad option. The tandem of he and Terence Mann as a starting backcourt combine to make life tough on both ends. Not to mention their options of Norman Powell and Russell Westbrook coming off the bench.
Never mind also having to think about Kawhi Leonard, who is having the most efficient scoring season of his career so far and is shooting 44-percent from three on the year. The Clippers will be without Paul George but look for the battle of the backcourts be the deciding factor in this fight.
How to watch
Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. CT and can be watched on Bally Sports Southwest and Bally Sports Plus.