Coming off of what has to be the most team-affirming win of the season, the Dallas Mavericks head west to take on their frequent postseason foe, the Los Angeles Clippers. Still without Luka Doncic, but they’ll be adding new addition Kyrie Irving to the rag-tag bunch that took down the Jazz.
The Clippers have been playing well as they round into shape after a bit of a slow start. Their 8-2 mark is the best 10-game stretch currently in the West, and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are operating at full capacity, which has been a rarity since they joined up in Los Angeles.
A win tonight perhaps wouldn’t be as big of a surprise, but it might be even more impressive. Here are three things to watch:
Kyrie era begins
On Tuesday, Irving was doing scrimmage work with the team in preparation for his first game in a Mavericks uniform. There will surely be no shortage of takes following his debut. A stumble to start things off will have those already nervous of the acquisition pushing their blood pressure even higher while a good game will no doubt incur myriad chest-thumping from the Hooper contingent.
Still, all of this is just the appetizer until we see what kind of havoc Irving and Doncic can get up to together once Luka is back from his heel contusion. Not much more to say about it other than to just sit back and watch the show.
Not the Mavs you know
Dallas’ shock win over the Utah Jazz was fun not just because it was unexpected, but because we got to see a side of the Dallas Mavericks we haven’t seen much of — certainly not for an entire game.
Utah, like Dallas, ranks at the bottom of the league in terms of pace. So, too, do the Clippers. Over the last 10 games, the Clippers have the fourth-slowest pace, content to let George and Leonard work out of the half-court. On a normal day, this game would be a matchup of who can execute that style of ball the best. With the emergence of Josh Green and Jaden Hardy, Dallas caught Utah on the back foot with their pace and fast-break scoring.
Irving will certainly thrive in that kind of environment. The Brooklyn Nets' pace was fairly middle of the pack, but Irving is comfortable on the break, and likely won’t be looking to control the pace as much as Doncic prefers to. The increased speed of Dallas’ play could up the variance and help Dallas steal just their second Luka-less win in back-to-back games.
Defenders need not apply
At the best of times, Dallas had trouble guarding the one-two wing combo of Leonard and George. Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock have done their damnedest to shore up Dallas’ defensive deficiencies, and even with both PG13 and the Claw are a handful. Now, Finney-Smith is with the Nets and Reggie’s workload isn’t getting any easier.
It’s not surprising that the Clippers' 8-2 mark coincides with them having the league’s best offensive rating. Pairing that with “good enough” defense and the ability to throw Kawhi Leonard on the opponent’s best player seems to be a winning blueprint. Fortunately for Dallas, there is no blueprint for how they’ll look in this game. Irving is a known quantity, but how he looks as a Maverick is to be determined, but it’s probably not as a lock-down defender. It’s going to be a firefight, and for one more game, perhaps the fog of war is enough to win the day as the team awaits Doncic’s return.
How to watch
You can broadcast or stream the game on ESPN at 9 p.m. CST.