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Wednesday, January 18, 2012
W2W4: Dirk Nowitzki to guard Blake Griffin?

By Jeff Caplan


LOS ANGELES -- The Dallas Mavericks are 2-4 on the road, but two losses have come on last-possession 3-pointers via Kevin Durant and most recently Derek Fisher.

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A stiff challenge comes tonight back at the Staples Center against the re-made Lob -- er -- Los Angeles Clippers, with the job becoming especially difficult if point guard Chris Paul (hamstring) returns to the lineup (that seems to be highly questionable) after missing the last two games.

The Mavs have been a team the last two seasons that has thrived on the road. And despite the sub-.500 record, the Mavs have still been pretty good, at least from a defensive standpoint. Dallas is 2-2 in its last four roadies, but have held those four opponents to an average of 84.3 points with only San Antonio cracking 90. Three of the four shot below 40 percent -- only hapless Detroit in a blowout shot slightly higher.

The Mavs will get a Clippers team with a long list of injuries that's finishing a back-to-back-to-back and was a virtual no-show at Utah on Tuesday night, shooting 36.5 percent.

"We’re building momentum with our defense," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "Right now we’re No. 3 in the league (and No. 1 in West in scoring defense, 88.5 points per game), which is significant, and we’re No. 2 in the last 21 days. Those are positive things. I feel like we’re building some team toughness and we have to continue with it and understand that that’s going to be the key to our improvement and our success."

The Clippers, 6-1 at home, rank sixth in the league in scoring (99.3) with familiar face Caron Butler being one of five players scoring in double figures at 16.2 points.

Records: Mavs (8-6); Clippers (7-4)

When: 9:30 p.m.

Where: Staples Center

TV: ESPN, FSSW

Radio: 103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)

What to watch: Rick Carlisle said Tuesday that the nature of the schedule, injuries and the feeling-out process with this roster has made it impossible to establish any semblance of a consistent rotation. Tonight, Carlisle will be without key reserve Vince Carter, removing the one guy off the bench that can create for himself as well as being the team's best 3-point shooter. With Carter out, Carlisle suggested that Lamar Odom could pick up minutes at small forward, Brian Cardinal could get more involved and Rodrigue Beaubois becomes an obvious choice to take up minutes at shooting guard. It will be interesting to see, especially in a tight game, how Carlisle handles his bench.

Key matchup: Blake Griffin vs. Dirk Nowitzki
This is an example of where the Mavs miss Tyson Chandler. The athletic, 7-foot-1 center could defend players like Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge. But with Brendan Haywood as the starter now, the Mavs seem to have no choice but to guard the Clippers' rugged, 6-10 power forward with Dirk. It'll certainly make Dirk work hard on the defensive end as he's still trying to get his conditioning up to par and work through shooting struggles. Adding to the intrigue, Griffin is coming off a poor 10-point game Tuesday in a blowout loss to the Jazz. He only played 27 minutes, so the 22-year-old should feel OK physically considering this is a third game in as many nights.

Injuries: Mavs - G Vince Carter (sprained left foot) is out. Clippers - G Chris Paul (left hamstring) is questionable; G Eric Bledsoe (torn right lateral miniscus) is out; G Mo Williams (right foot) is questionable. C-F Brian Cook (left ankle) is questionable.

Up next: Mavs at Utah Jazz, 9:30 p.m., Thursday