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3 things to watch for as the Mavericks take on the Clippers

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The Mavericks head to the City of Angels for a pre-Christmas bout with a league juggernaut.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas is 2-1 in their last three, following a disappointing loss to Denver with a nail-biting victory against the Trail Blazers — sealed with a heroic defensive effort by Wesley Matthews on Damian Lillard. Let’s be honest, though; the 8th seed in the Western Conference is likely to be around a .500 basketball team. In order for Dallas to climb out of their horrendous early season play and reach 41-41, they’d have to win 73 percent of their remaining games (33-12), which translates to a 60-win pace. This is not a 60-win team. The Clippers however, come close to that figure every season, and they are favorites against Dallas tonight.

Blake Griffin will not be playing, after suffering yet another major knee injury in his career, so his 29 percent usage rate for the season will be out of the lineup, allowing Chris Paul to nudge his 23.7 percent rate upwards with each passing game. It seems as though the Clippers go through this phase each year, as Griffin goes down and the offense hums like a futuristic machine around the Paul/Jordan pick and roll with shooters enjoying the open threes that result.

Dallas needs to take advantage of Wesley Matthews’ length and veteran savvy in pick and roll defense, allowing the Mavericks big men to hang back and give up a mid-range shot to Paul with Matthews bothering him from behind. If Matthews can make that shot tough for Paul, this game could go well. If not, Paul could feast around the elbows.

Pick and roll defense

Chris Paul runs pick and rolls. A lot of pick and rolls. In fact, more than 25 percent of their possessions are finished by the ball handler or roll man, per Synergy Sports, and they typically run at least one such action on every possession. When Chris Paul is your point guard, the ball tends to find the open man, so the way for Dallas to slow him down is with strong on ball defense and by preventing the other players from becoming open. Easier said than done, sure, but if Dallas can drag their pick and roll efficiency down from the nearly one point per possession rate they score at, this team can have a chance.

Win the turnover battle

Dallas has the highest defensive turnover percentage in the league at 15.1 percent, and they need to turn Chris Paul and the Clippers over if they are going to win this game. Dallas plays at the slowest pace in the league, and that limits transition opportunities. Live ball turnovers lead to some of the most efficient shots in all of basketball, and Dallas needs them to survive. Look for at least 15 Clipper turnovers if Dallas is to have a shot in this game.

Foul less and draw more fouls

This is easier said than done, but the Clippers lead the league in free throw attempt rate, which is how often they take a trip to the line based on the number of shots they put up. Dallas is dead last in this metric, with their best slasher in Harrison Barnes often favoring jump shots, tough runner, or wide open dunks that don’t draw contact. Chris Paul is crafty, DeAndre Jordan draws a lot of attention (and purposeful hacks), and J.J. Reddick loves to pump defenders in the air and leap into them for the foul. Between Barnes, Wesley Matthews, and Dorian Finney-Smith on the perimeter, the Mavericks need to lock down on Redick and Paul to take home the win.

How to watch

The game tips off at 9:30 p.m. central time and can be watched on FSSW.