LOS ANGELES-May be it was too much eggnog. The Dallas Mavericks received an early Christmas present Friday night. The Mavericks, coming into their Western Conference game against the minus Chris Paul and minus Blake Griffin Los Angeles Clippers, did what any team can do on any given night: they won a ballgame.
To some people, the Mavericks’ 90-88 win against the Clippers at Staples Center, is somewhat of a shocker, considering Dallas (9-21) just moved into a two-way tie with the Phoenix Suns for the worst record in the Western Conference.
But this is the NBA. All these cats are professional basketball players, and they all know how to play. That may not be sweet music for Clippers fans to hear, but that is a reality. The reality for the Clippers at the moment is that they’ve hit an early season snag after jumping out to a red-hot start.
The Clippers are 6-4 in their last 10 games. The tailspin has dropped the team into a tie with Houston for third place in the Western Conference. Now with the absence of Paul and Griffin, looking at the Dallas game, some people are going to start predicting this doom and gloom scenario with the Clippers. The naysayers are already chirping.
At the end of the day, though, it is all just talk. The Clippers have the power to right the ship better than any hater talking smack. This is still a very, very good team without Paul and Griffin in the lineup. By reading this, some people may think I might be drinking some of that Kool-Aid.
No. The Clippers are a veteran ballclub with a steady leader in coach Doc Rivers. When I see fellow media members hyperventilating over the nuclear Golden State Warriors and last year’s NBA champs Cleveland Cavaliers, you would think that no one else has a chance of playing in the championship round.
To these individuals, everybody and everything else short of Steph Curry and Kevin Durant facing off against LeBron James and the Cavs, is an unfathomable thought. That line of thinking is already over the top. Now it’s beginning to border on the absurd. If this is a forgone conclusion, why play the games? Why even bother going through with the motion of a regular season and playoffs?
Why don’t we just hand the Warriors and Cavaliers their respective Western Conference and Eastern Conference crowns and be done with all of this formality? Because that’s not how it works. There is a process to go through. What if the Mavericks decided to take the night off and allowed the Clippers to run roughshod all over them because everyone thought they were going to lose?
You play the games because you never know what can happen on any given night. The Clippers, despite all of this very old and tired second round chatter, have the talent and moxie to compete with any team for the league title. If that means going through the Warriors, so be it.
There’s nothing guaranteed in life. So winning an NBA title is not written in stone for either the Warriors or Cavaliers. They have to earn it. Just like the Clippers have to earn their keep as being one of the elite teams in the Western Conference and NBA. Over the last few years, the Clippers have been very successful.
Some would rebuke that assessment. They see only winning a championship as being successful. Considering how far the Clippers have come as an organization, the continued winning ways under Rivers has kept basketball fans abuzz with the franchise. That’s winning.
Yes, the Clippers did fall to the Mavericks. But it’s still early. And you know Rivers is going to have his squad ready come spring. But there is pause for concern. It’s quite obvious the Clippers are void without that one guy player who can take over when they really need it when Paul and Griffin are not on the floor.
More importantly, lacking Paul’s leadership on the floor, the Clippers can at times be scattershot in their play. That was reflected in the Clippers turning the ball over 20 times against the Mavericks. But it’s early. This is an correctable offense.
Both Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers are both capable of running the team’s offense better than the choppy play that was exhibited against the Mavericks. The Clippers’ Mr. Reliable, Jamal Crawford, actually did a pretty decent job of keeping Doc River’s offense flowing until the final period. Crawford scored 26 points and led the team in assists with 6.
The Clippers’ undoing in this contest was making just 46 percent of their shots from the field while only contributing 17 assists for the game. That worked right in the hands of the Mavericks and Golden State Warriors surrogate Harrison Barnes, who scored the game-winning shot for the visitors. Barnes finished the game with 24 points and six rebounds.
The real culprit for the Clippers in their defeat to the Mavericks wasn’t Barnes popping in a short jumper to win the game with seconds remaining. Turnovers, as they always are, were an issue. The problem, though, as it has been all season, was the missing in action play from the small forward position. The Clippers received jus a collective 10 points from Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass, Wesley Johnson and Luc Mbah a Moute against the Mavericks.
Moving forward, this is the one area the Clippers will have to improve in order to be taken seriously as title contenders,