The Clippers (43-29) are making a strong move for the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference playoff chase. Currently the Jazz hold that spot, but it could well be up for grabs when the Clippers return home for Saturday's matinee matchup against Utah.
But first, Chris Paul and company will have to get past the fading Mavs (30-40), who are coming off a blowout loss at home to the Golden State Warriors. Spurring Los Angeles' recent run of solid play that has come following a three-game losing skid has been a renewed spirit on defense.
"Defensively our trust has never been higher," Clippers star forward Blake Griffin said Tuesday following a 24-point win over the Los Angeles Lakers. "And I think I talked about this after our last game, but just our talk has been at times phenomenal. "We're kind of erring on the side of over-help. That's important, making teams kind of do what you want instead of letting them dictate what you do."
However, it should be noted that the competition level hasn't exactly been stellar. A win against Cleveland to start the current win streak might look good on paper, but the Cavaliers rested LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. The two wins that followed came against the Knicks and Lakers.
In Dallas, the Clippers will look to continue the defensive effort, as well as seek to get the type of bench production it received in the Lakers win, when 57 points came via reserves.
"In the past, when the starters have played well, the bench will come in and think it's an offensive contest," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after the win over the Lakers. "They came in and got stops, and realized if they get stops, they even score more."
L.A. has won its last two games in Dallas, a team that has had trouble containing the alley-oop attack of Paul and center DeAndre Jordan. The Mavs' recent acquisition of Nerlens Noel might help in that regard, however Noel is currently not in the starting lineup and because of a recent knee injury and the lopsided score for almost the entirety of the second half, he played just 17 minutes in Dallas' loss to the Warriors on Tuesday.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle will likely want to turn to his wiry big man more often against Jordan.
"I think the skill set is there, but it's got to be definable stuff where his teammates know where to get him the ball and he knows where his shots are and where they aren't," Carlisle said of Noel. "A full training camp certainly will help all of this, but we're doing a lot of this stuff now -- it's a bit on the fly. Again, one danger with young players is giving them so many options out on the floor that it confuses both them and their teammates. We want to keep this simple for him and the guys playing with him, but overall I'm very pleased with the trade. I like him very much as a kid and he's done many good things."