The Dallas Mavericks have a chance to set the tone this afternoon on a pivotal day for their city, as the Dallas Cowboys will play the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs later this evening.
While the Mavs' game lacks the championship-heightened pressure of the aforementioned matchup, facing the star-studded Los Angeles Clippers still has a slight sense of grandeur. Kawhi Leonard reached into his 2021 playoffs bag the last time the Mavs battled the Clippers on Jan. 10 in a 113-101 loss.
Luka Doncic led the way with 43 points in that one, but Leonard led the Clippers to a victory with an efficient 33 points of his own.
Despite Leonard having even more help on Sunday with Paul George being available, the recent resuscitation of Dallas' defense provides Doncic and company a shot at redemption.
Before discussing Sunday's game, briefly skimming through the Mavs' game logs will show you most of what you need to know. Points per game don't tell you everything, but it's worrisome when a team allows 376 points in a three-game span.
Dallas finally received Jason Kidd's message of focusing on defense, which was evident in the 115-90 thrashing of the Miami Heat on Friday. Although the Clippers' roster is theoretically a legitimate contending team, their reputation and injury history keeps them at a normal level.
Beating the Clippers in a regular season or playoff series isn't as unfathomable as in years past. With Dorian Finney-Smith and Josh Green back in the rotation, the Mavs have the players to at least make things tough on George and Leonard.
The Clippers' injury issues reign supreme in why the team can't get it together. With a 3-7 record in their last ten games, Leonard and George only played together once in that span. However, even when both have played together this season, the Clippers are just 10-7 in those games.
Unless there is a last-minute scratch, Leonard and George don't appear in the official NBA injury report. Dallas, on the other hand, won't have Christian Wood due to his fractured left thumb.
As the Mavs have seemingly found their footing on defense, is it enough to keep the silent-but-dangerous Leonard from clawing them to pieces? We’ll find out soon, as the Mavs and Clippers tip-off their matinee affair at 1:30 p.m. CT.
FUN FACT: The Clippers don't have an answer for Doncic. Averaging 32.5 points in 14 games vs. the lesser-acclaimed Los Angeles team marks the second-highest against any franchise in Doncic's career.
RECORDS: Dallas Mavericks (25-22), Los Angeles Clippers (24-24)
WHEN: Sunday, January 22, 2023 - 1:30 p.m. CT
WHERE: American Airlines Center (Dallas, TX)
TV: Bally Sports Southwest, League Pass
RADIO: 97.1 The Freak
ODDS: The Mavericks are 2-point favorites over the Clippers
NEXT UP: The Mavericks play the Washington Wizards at the AAC.
FINAL WORD: "He destroyed us", Doncic said of Leonard after the Clippers wing posted 45 points in game six of the 2021 NBA postseason.
Similar to what Doncic did to the Phoenix Suns in the 2022 Western Conference Finals, Leonard snatched the hope from Dallas and the MFFL faithful.
While it's not a high-stakes game, Leonard is always at risk of destroying defenses. Dallas must combat Leonard's mid-range shooting and attack with double teams.
Although silencing Leonard seems impossible, what about forcing the basketball equivalent of using one's inside voice?
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