The favorable start to our season schedule ended after the home win against the Detroit Pistons Saturday night. Without Dirk Nowitzki in the lineup through the first 17 games, the vastly new-look Dallas Mavericks are 8-9.
Tonight opens a challenging stretch for the Mavs who will play nine of the next 12 games away from the American Airlines Center. The Los Angeles Clippers will play host tonight to get the current three-game roadie underway.
The Mavs and Clippers have a few familiar faces on each side. Caron Butler is in his second season with the Clips after joining last year following the championship run in Dallas. Then there’s Lamar Odom who will likely go down as the worst Maverick player ever. Not statistically alone, but his overall time spent with the organization was a complete disaster.
Both parties have moved on after Odom was dealt to the Clippers this summer in a small three-team trade that had Dallas receive a traded player exception and the Utah Jazz acquired Clippers combo guard Mo Williams.
Former Clippers Chris Kaman and Elton Brand now play for the Mavericks and in the absence of Dirk, both are starting for the 2010-2011 champs. Kaman had some of his best years in a Clippers uniform, the only team he had played for before a trade sent him to the New Orleans Hornets last year where he was one and done. Brand spent seven seasons with the Clippers organization himself before leaving for Philadelphia.
Everyone involved with the Mavs received positive news recently when we heard Dirk would travel with the team on the trip. It got even better when a picture surfaced with Dirk working out taking set jumpshots. He’s not ready to resume full basketball activities yet, but this is more than a welcome sight for a team that desperately needs its superstar player back.
The Clippers had some good news of their own when Chauncey Billups made his triumphant return to the court after sustaining a season-ending Achilles injury in February. He’s played three contests and started each one. Billups will be eased back into the mix as he’s currently averaging 7.3 points in 19.7 MPG.
Chris Paul hasn’t skipped a beat in his own second year as the Clippers point man. His 9.3 APG ties him for the second best in the league to go along with 16.2 PPG, third best on the Clippers. Not long ago Paul and the Clips were marred by a four-game losing streak, but have since won three straight and enter tonight 11-6.
This game will be a barometer to inform us where the Mavericks truly stand among the contenders and pretenders. I do think right now the Mavs aren’t close to actual contention, but it’s always helpful to analyze against more stout competition, especially on the road.
Once again the offensive burden lies heavily on the shoulders of O.J. Mayo. Until the Big German returns, Mayo will continue to be the vocal point all every team’s defensive schemes. Mayo has been dealing with two sore ankles which resulted in a rough three games before he bounced back with a 27-point perfomance against the Pistons.
The Mavs could use a strong balanced team effort tonight. Taking care of the ball remains to be an important factor in wins and losses. Rebounds. Ball movement. Attacking. These are several keys to this game and our guys will likely need to win most of them to leave LA with a victory.
This will be Derek Fisher’s second game for the Mavs and already making a trip back to STAPLES Center where he played so many years, five ending with a championship ring.
Game action will tip after 9:30 p.m. CT as the second game on ESPN. Let’s go Mavs!