Sure, the Dallas Mavericks were without both Jason Kidd and Lamar Odom in Monday night's game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
But the Clippers didn't beat the Mavs solely because those two were absent. The Clippers hammered Dallas 94-75 because they played a much better game than the defending champions did -- and a more complete one.
This victory effectively validates the Clippers' recent winning streak, which has now stretched to six, the longest since 1992 for the beleaguered franchise. But three of the five wins before Monday night had come against sub-.500 teams, two of which were also missing a key player.
Dallas is comfortably over .500, despite its dismal start to the 2011-12 season, and would have been in position to face the Clips in a 4-5 first-round matchup had they beat them Monday night. So this one meant something.
Randy Foye, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin would have none of that, with Foye connecting on a franchise-record-tying eight 3-pointers to lead all scorers with 28 points. Paul played through an injured elbow to accumulate double-digit assists for the fifth time in the six-game win streak, and Griffin shot an efficient 7-of-11 from the field and added 16 rebounds.
Defensively, it's hard to tell how well the Clippers played because Dallas shot so horribly, but it's clear that L.A. played at least serviceable defense. Their rotations have been better of late, and there was no reason to think they took a step back in that category Monday night.
"Sometimes you just get your a-- kicked that bad," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said in his postgame press conference at the American Airlines Center.
Can you imagine a coach saying that about the Clippers 10 days ago, when they were coming off a road loss to the New Orleans Hornets?
Not a chance. We won't know for some time whether the 2011-12 Clippers are closer to the team they appeared to be in that game against New Orleans or in Monday's game against Dallas, but there is now real reason to believe it's the latter.
They won't ever be elite defensively -- this season, at least -- but they can be good enough sometimes, clearly. And when at least one of the trio of Foye, Caron Butler or Nick Young is hitting consistently from the perimeter, the Clippers are a truly dangerous offensive team.
The win over the Mavs also gives them the crucial tiebreak advantage if the two teams end up tied in three weeks, a definite possibility. The Clippers now have the tiebreaker secured over a number of Western Conference playoff contenders, including Dallas, Houston and Memphis.
They can also get it over the crosstown Lakers if they win Wednesday night's game at the Staples Center. Suddenly, things are looking up for the 32-21 Clippers.
Who knows: Monday's win might eventually be looked at as the official turning point for this team come May or June. Or not.
“It’s a good game because we need wins and it helps us in the West standings," Griffin told Dallas-area reporters after the game. "At the same time, just because we won like this doesn’t mean that if we had to come back it would be a rout.
"They’re a tough team, they’re a veteran team, they’re missing some guys, so we’ve just got to keep on working and keep on plugging.”