One of the overriding themes in Chris Kaman’s years-past time with the Los Angeles Clippers was owner Donald T. Sterling’s “Reign Of Error.” One of the overriding themes of the Clippers of present-time is Sterling’s willingness to maintain happiness for stars like Chris Paul, a free-agent-to-be in the summer of 2013 and a long-time Dallas Mavericks acquisition target.
“Years-past” met “present-time” on Wednesday in LA, with Kaman’s new team, the Mavs, being crushed by a 112-90 decision and reminding followers of the visiting team just how hungry Dallas is for a Paul-like superstar.
“He’s the best point guard in the game,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle of Paul, who had 14 points and 13 assists and with his five steals keyed a Clippers defense that forced 22 Mavs turnovers.
Paul is the centerpiece of a Clippers team that also features Blake Griffin 19 points, 13 rebounds, five assists) and Jamal Crawford (20 points off the bench) and a host of athletic young stars backed by a bevy of veteran talent. Paul makes it all run, though, and keeping the point guard in LA is the justifiable focus of Sterling, who at 79 may be realizing, as Kaman said on the eve of the game, “You can’t win in the grave.”
Sterling’s previous teams, even ones featuring budding stars Kaman and Elton Brand (now both Mavs) were always blocked from taking the next step due to his frugal and careless management style. Maybe that habit will revisit the Clippers and Paul will free himself to accept summer bidders – a group of teams that will be led by Dallas, which has instituted “Plan Powder” as it works to maintain financial flexibility while pursuing the elusive superstar. (“Plan Powder,” as in, “keeping our powder dry.”)
Or maybe Paul remains a Clipper long-term and speeds on as part of the development of a team that has leapfrogged its way beyond Dallas as a legit contender in the West.
Dallas is now 8-10 while attempting to remain afloat despite the so-far absence of Dirk Nowitzki, the franchise icon rehabbing from knee surgery. Nowitzki is with the club on this road trip (which continues Thursday in Phoenix and Saturday in Houston) and in fact he did some practice-court work in LA.
“The swelling is gone, so now I think we can push it more and more from week to week,” Nowitzki said during a network halftime interview. “I did a lot of cardio last week. Now, I’m actually trying to run the court, get some shots up. Maybe next week, start running more, start cutting and reintroduce more week by week. Hopefully, in a couple of weeks, I’ll get back out there.”
It was hoped his sheer presence might give Dallas – now a 2-7 team away from home – an emotional boost.
Instead, the night was so stuck-in-reverse that even legendary Dallas failure Lamar Odom (who spend an odious season with the Mavs last year) was a Clippers contributor, with 11 rebounds. Also a failure: Point guard Darren Collison, who again came off the bench behind Derek Fisher – and the difference between the two was resounding.
The newcomer Fisher scored 15 points and was a plus-2 while on the floor. The demoted starter Collison was a minus-24 and was central to Dallas’ turnover problems.
“Turnovers triggered basically all the problems tonight,” Carlisle said. “It was an avalanche of mistakes.”
LA, which is 12-6 and leading the Pacific Division, stormed to a 7-0 start, led by as many as 11 in the first quarter and gained a 20-point lead in the second. By halftime, Dallas’ bench had matched LA’s bench, each group with 16. But the Dallas starters had only managed 26 points while the Clippers starters totaled 44.
The end of this game devolved into street ball, the Clippers seemingly being given permission to stage their own in-game dunk contest. Carlisle himself was among the Mavs who put up some fight, at one time jawing with Willie Green from the bench. But otherwise, it was about one long-embattled franchise with a star taking it on a ride and another franchise with long-term plans having to play a waiting game.
“I think (turnovers) bit us in the butt,” Dallas’ Vince Carter said, “and the score showed it.”
What the score also showed is that Dallas didn’t bite back.