The Clippers will make an appearance in the second round of the NBA playoffs for the first time in five years, facing off against the Denver Nuggets. Here is our staff’s roundtable predictions on the series and what storylines they think will be important to the outcome.
Cole Huff: Clippers in 6
This series is going to come down to whether or not the Clippers’ big men (Zu mainly) can do a good job defensively on Jokic, and stay out of foul trouble. Murray could still have the hot hand, but the Clippers’ perimeter defenders should present more difficulties for him than Utah’s did. I have a hard time seeing Denver being able to slow down the Clippers’ offensive versatility enough to earn a series victory, so I’ll go Clippers in 6.
Sanjesh Singh: Clippers in 5
The Clippers have the regular season edge, as their only loss to Denver came when Paul George didn’t play. They won comfortably when George was available. Denver’s battle with fatigue will be worse than the Clippers’, who will have benefited from the extra rest they got by winning their first round series in six games. A healthy, rested Clippers team should prove to be too much for Denver to overcome, despite brilliant performances from Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic vs. Utah.
Lucas Hann: Clippers in 6
Murray and Jokic are very, very good, but the Nuggets around them haven’t quite come together to be greater than the sum of their parts, and there aren’t many other guys on the roster (save for a hot shooting night from Michael Porter Jr.) that are going to beat you as individuals. Either the Nuggets will come into game 1 riding high from a huge 3-1 first-round comeback and play well enough offensively to win a couple of games, or they’ll come in exhausted and LAC will make quick work of them. I’ll hedge towards the side that gives Denver a little more credit, but even as I predict Clippers in 6, I’m eyeing a shorter series.
Shapan Debnath: Clippers in 5
This is the most optimistic Clipper prediction I’ve maybe ever made? The Nuggets are banged up and still have plenty of talent, but I think they will throw an early haymaker and, if the Clippers can absorb it, they may be able to make this a quick series.
Chris Murch: Clippers in 5
I was maybe in the minority of people that wanted the Nuggets over the Jazz for the Clippers in the second round. The Nuggets, as a team, are about as bad as it gets defensively. They lack a true interior presence (Nikola Jokic is a big dude obviously but plays defense roughly equivalent to that of my 69-year-old aunt with Legionnaires disease), have spotty shooting, are without noted Clipper killer Will Barton, and rely heavily on the individualistic efforts of Jamal Murray and Jokic, both of whom will be gassed after a 7-game series and the Clippers can throw multiple bodies at defensively. The Clips will fall asleep one game without a doubt, because that’s what they tend to do, but 5 games should wrap this series up.
Erik Olsgaard: Clippers in 5
After my cautious round 1 prediction only happened to come true because of an injury to Patrick Beverley, I think I’ll be more bullish going forward. Not only is this the first time the Clippers have had a rest advantage on a playoff opponent in the Doc Rivers era, but it’s a big one: these Denver Nuggets looked absolutely gassed in game 7 of a grueling series with a very physical Utah team (I feel like Lob City was always on the other side of this equation). On top of that, the Clippers looked locked-in defensively in the final 2 games of the Dallas series, and they have Patrick Beverley likely back in the starting lineup, restoring rotational order. I think the Clippers drop one game to Jokic and Murray doing that thing where they’re unguardable, but otherwise close the series out in quick fashion.
Robert Flom: Clippers in 6
As always, I’m a pessimist. While the Clippers are once again the better, more talented team in this series, the Nuggets are a big step up in difficulty from the Mavs, even without Will Barton. The Mavs gave the Clippers headaches almost the entire series (Game 5 aside), and while the Nuggets don’t have anyone quite on the caliber of Luka Doncic (I do think he’s better/more dangerous than Jokic at this point), their roster as a whole is more talented. Jerami Grant is a solid option on Kawhi Leonard, I think the Clippers will have more issues defending Jamal Murray than expected, and Jokic has carved up the Clippers for years. Honestly, while the Clippers could win in less than 6, I could also see it going the distance. Ultimately, Kawhi’s brilliance will be what secures the Clips the victory.
Thomas Wood: Clippers in 6
I have little doubt the Clippers will prevail in this second round match against the Nuggets. The Clippers’ strength (at the wing positions) happens to mesh ever so nicely with the Nuggets’ weakness (at the wing positions). And Zubac’s emergence makes him well-suited to dampen Jokic’s magic. But I’ll give Denver two wins: one on Jamal Murray heroics, and another on a night when the Clippers lack focus.
Vijay Vemu: Clippers in 6
The Clippers have to worry about defending Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Those are the two guys who can lead Denver to wins on their own, as we saw last round. They are capable of putting up big numbers, so Doc Rivers and staff need to come up with a cohesive defensive gameplay to stop both the duo. However, Denver’s defense can be picked apart, and LA has the pieces to do so. Kawhi was cooking last round and there aren’t any real stalwarts on the Nuggets who can shut him down. If Paul George can start shooting better along with the likes of Landry Shamet and Marcus Morris still hitting shots from deep, the offense will really be humming. This will be a fun series, as the Nuggets are one of the more enjoyable young teams in the NBA with two stars and a bunch of solid role players. But the Clippers are the better team and will have the best player in the series.
Well, that does it for our roundtable on the Clippers against the Nuggets in the second round! Check out Lucas’ series preview, the podcast preview on TLTJTJP, Sanjesh Singh’s article on Ivica Zubac, Thomas’ Game 1 preview, and Vijay Vemu’s piece on some key stats from the Mavs’ series. The staff is very confident about this series – hopefully our faith is rewarded.