10:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Clippers -8, Over/Under: 220.5
On the eve of the Trade Deadline, one team has already made seismic waves that are sure to resonate around the league, while another is on the lookout for reinforcements for what they hope will become a long-delayed championship run, as the Dallas Mavericks battle the Los Angeles Clippers from crypto.com Arena in downtown Los Angeles, California. Well, we won’t blame you if you missed it because it happened VERY quickly, but after demanding to be traded last Friday, (mercurial All-Star) Kyrie Irving was dealt to the Mavericks (29-26, 5th in Western Conference) in a deal that hit the newswire Sunday afternoon and became official on Monday. It was a dramatic turn of events, as the 30-year-old Irving (pictured above) snubbed a contract extension from the Nets (that reportedly included several clauses), leading to a surprising trade request just five days before the deadline. Granted, nothing should come as a surprise with Irving anymore, for you would be hard-pressed to find another figure in the Association that has been the subject of more drama and chaos. Let’s make this perfectly clear: this is a MAJOR gamble by Dallas, who are acquiring one of the most supremely talented Point Guards in league history, who also doubles as a Hall of Fame level magnet for controversy. Sure, Irving is an 8-time All-Star who has been named to three All-NBA teams, while earning Rookie of the Year honors back in 2011-2012 and proved to be decisive in the Cavaliers’ NBA Finals triumph back in 2016, but he has now forced his way out of three different franchises, with his tenure in Brooklyn reading like a dark comedy. Upon arriving alongside (two-time NBA Champion) Kevin Durant little over three years ago, Irving served as a maelstrom of controversy as he refused to comply with NYC COVID guidelines for months and was unable to participate in his team’s home games for the majority of the 2021-2022 campaign after missing the first thirty-five contests. Later after his return to the hardwood, he quickly found himself embroiled in a new saga in which he was defending an antisemitic film via social media, drawing a wealth of criticism from the media and fanbase. While many thought that he would be traded during the offseason, he ultimately remained with the Nets on a lucrative player option, with all signs pointing to an extension for the would-be free agent. However, that all went out the window earlier this week as he was packaged to Dallas alongside (veteran Forward) Markieff Morris in exchange for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, and several future draft picks. Now, it remains to be seen what kind of deal Irving will receive from the Mavs, but in the short term they hope that by partnering him with (All-NBA Guard) Luka Doncic that they will be able to get over the proverbial hump and into the Finals for the first time since 2011 and therein convince the Slovenian sensation to remain in Northern Texas throughout the prime of his career. From purely a basketball perspective, there is reason to believe that this pairing should work, for Irving has been one of the finest complementary pieces when paired alongside the game’s best, winning that aforementioned championship alongside LeBron James and creating arguably the most formidable twosome in the league with Durant (at least when they were on the court together). (Head Coach) Jason Kidd and (General Manager) Nico Harrison have been dogged in their pursuit of someone who could alleviate the playmaking burden from Doncic, who is carrying the highest usage rate of his career at 38.5%, which comes after leading the NBA in that particular category in each of the past two campaigns. Remember, the Mavericks advanced all the way to the Western Conference Finals on the strength of Doncic and a motley crew of a supporting cast, so by adding Irving to the mix, they believe that they can better compete with the likes of the Warriors, or any of the west’s best. With that said, the conference has been largely mediocre thus far, with nine different teams separated by as many as three games in the standings, meaning that it wouldn’t take much of a run to cement themselves among the elite. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to wait a bit longer to see how Doncic and Irving combine their talents, as the former will be missing his third straight game due to an ailing heel, making this debut 100% Kyrie, for better or for worse; the talented floor general has averaged 27.1 points per game on an efficient 48.6% shooting from the field, including 37.4% from beyond the arc, along with 5.1 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and a steal alongside a PER of 21.9. He has faced the Clippers fourteen times in his career, posting 22.2 points on 46.5% shooting, including 44.2% from downtown, along with 3.4 rebounds, and 5.4 assists. Ironically, Los Angeles was one of a host of teams that came calling for his services last weekend, though their offer, which we’ll get into shortly, was ultimately deemed unacceptable by the Nets’ brass. As for the Mavericks, there are signs that they may not be done dealing quite yet, with the likes of (versatile Forward) Christian Wood and (Backup Guard) Tim Hardaway Jr. both rumored to be on the trading block; acquired via trade from the Rockets in the offseason, Wood hasn’t been a great fit in Dallas and has thus been rendered to coming off the bench, while Hardaway, despite being one of the most productive sixth men in the NBA, has been deemed surplus to requirements thanks to his bloated contract ($53.5 remaining over the rest of this season and the next two). Looking to tonight’s matchup with the Clippers, the Mavericks have lost two of their three regular season meetings this season, with their only victory coming in a narrow 103-101 affair back on November 15th. Doncic posted thirty-five points on 11-of-22 shooting (50.0%), with nine rebounds and five assists, while Finney-Smith and Dinwiddie added twenty-one and sixteen respectively, though none of them will be participating in tonight’s contest. From a betting perspective, Dallas is 3-7 straight-up and against the spread over their last ten games regardless of the venue, while covering the spread in just two over their last ten outings away from American Airlines Center. On the injury front, Doncic isn’t the only Mav out of action tonight, as both (veteran sharpshooter) Davis Bertans and (veteran Forward) Maxi Kleber are sidelined with respective calf and hamstring maladies. Kidd stated in a recent press conference that Kleber is likely to return following this current five-game road trip, with his size and physicality sure to be a boon to his team’s smaller frontcourt.
Meanwhile, sitting two games in the win column ahead of the Mavericks are the Clippers (31-26, 4th in Western Conference), who thanks to the cleanest bill of health that they’ve seen in years have begun their ascension to the top of the west. Back on January 8th, they stood at a mediocre 21-21 and on the verge of falling out of the play-in window, but since then have gone on to win ten of fifteen games, including an 8-2 stretch over their last ten outings. So, what in the name of Lloyd Voight has happened to the Clips, you ask? Well, as we stated earlier, they’re healthy, or to be more specific, (All-Star Swingmen) Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are both finally healthy. Indeed, much like the Nets’ ill-fated attempt to pair a duo of dynamic players together, Los Angeles went about their business in a similar manner that same summer, acquiring the services of Leonard and George, arguably the most effective two-way wings in the league at the moment. While they earned a fair amount of success in their first season together, they crumbled in remarkable fashion in the Bubble, relinquishing a 3-1 series lead to the Nuggets in the Western Semifinals. A year later and Leonard (pictured above) suffered a torn ACL, missing much of the second half of the season and his team’s run to the Western Conference Finals, a first in franchise history. Last season, both he and George missed a wealth of time due to various injuries and the club missed the postseason altogether for the first time since 2018. Needless to say, there was a palpable amount of pressure on these two, for another disappointing finish would likely spell the end of this experiment altogether. Thankfully, the two are both healthy for the first time in nearly two years and the numbers suggest that this could spell trouble for what appears to be a wide-open west; over the last ten games, they’ve been stellar offensively, averaging 120.4 points on 49.5% shooting from the field, including 40.9% from beyond the arc, while also netting 20.2 free-throws a night, and dishing out 22.7 assists in comparison to committing just 9.8 turnovers. During that period, Leonard has put up 28.8 points on a scintillating 52.2% shooting from the field and 45.8% from downtown, along with 6.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 2.0 steals, while George hasn’t been far behind with 23.7 points on 51.7% shooting, including 42.6% from three, and 6.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 1.6 steals. However, as we hinted at earlier, that has not deterred them from being active at the Trade Deadline, with (Head Coach) Tyronn Lue and (General Manager) Lawence Frank looking to upgrade two areas of concern: size in their frontcourt and a starting Point Guard. Though they pack plenty of size and length on the wings, the Clippers lack both of those qualities in the paint, where (veteran Center) Ivica Zubac (7′-0″, 240 pounds) is the only player in the rotation standing taller than 6′-8″. Granted, Lue gets a lot of mileage out of (veteran Forwards) Marcus Morris and Robert Covington, but they will be at a disadvantage against larger frontcourts in the playoffs without a solid big to fall back on. With that said, a legitimate floor general has become the top priority at the deadline, for this is arguably the most glaring weakness on the roster. (Backup Guard) Reggie Jackson lacks the size and athleticism to keep up with the plethora of talented Point Guards out west, while neither Terance Mann nor Norman Powell (who has been a godsend this season) are naturals at that position. The franchise took a flier on (former All-Star) John Wall in the offseason, but it’s become abundantly clear that the 32-year-old is a shell of the player that he was in his prime, with rumors suggesting that he could be bought out of his contract. In the meantime, Lue has resorted to fielding George as a de facto Point Guard, though the brunt of being their second-leading scorer, primary wing defender, and chief facilitator is far from an ideal solution. As we stated earlier, the Clippers were involved in talks to acquire Irving from the Nets, though their offer consisting of Mann, (veteran sharpshooter) Luke Kennard, a future first round pick, and a pair of pick swaps wasn’t close to being enough to entice Brooklyn to part ways with the controversial Guard. Rumors going around the league suggest that Los Angeles is in play for other available Point Guards, ranging from Toronto’s Fred VanVleet to Utah’s Mike Conley, which while representing a clear step down from Irving, would nonetheless be VERY useful within Lue’s rotation. Looking to tonight’s contest, the Clippers have won three of the last four meetings with the Mavericks straight-up, including a 113-101 victory in Los Angeles back on January 10th, before hammering them in a 112-98 affair two weeks later. From a betting perspective, LA is just 3-7 against the spread over their last ten games regardless of the venue, while posting a 5-5 mark against the spread in their last ten outings at crypto.com Arena. They’ve also won six of their last ten encounters with the Mavs straight-up, covering the spread in seven of them. On the injury front, the aforementioned Wall will miss his fourteenth consecutive game due to a lingering abdominal issue, with Lue recently stating that a timetable for his return is undetermined, adding more fuel to the rumors that he could be bought out.