The Clippers take on the Denver Nuggets on Christmas evening in a rematch of the 2020 second-round playoff series that was an ignominious defeat for the Clips and a potential preview for a future postseason clash.
Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado
When: 7:30 PM PT
How to Watch: ESPN, Watch ESPN
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Patrick Beverley – Paul George – Kawhi Leonard – Nicolas Batum – Serge Ibaka
Nuggets: Jamal Murray – Gary Harris – Michael Porter Jr. – Paul Millsap – Nikola Jokic
Clippers: Marcus Morris Out (Knee soreness)
Nuggets: JaMychal Green Out (Calf strain)
The Big Picture
The Clippers looked quite good on opening night, showcasing improved ball movement, attention to detail on defense, and lineup creativity in their victory over the Lakers. There were still plenty of kinks to work out, including a dreadful 2nd quarter replete with stagnant offense and horrid turnovers, but overall, it was a promising start. All key players looked healthy and ready for the regular season, with Paul George playing particularly well. The Clippers really couldn’t have asked for too much more.
Now, Marcus Morris remains out with knee soreness, which is not good. However, Nic Batum played well in the starting lineup Tuesday, and there are good reasons that Morris’ absence could actually result in some positive outcomes in the long-term, as long as he’s not out for too much longer. If he’s out tonight, the Clippers still matchup fine with the Nuggets, who don’t usually feature Paul Millsap or their bigger forwards much on offense.
The Nuggets had a disappointing season opener, losing at home (albeit with no fans) to the presumably lottery-bound Sacramento Kings. Despite a massive outing from Nikola Jokic and solid supporting performances by Will Barton, Paul Millsap, and Michael Porter Jr., a horrid game from Jamal Murray (fouling out in 34 minutes with only 9 points scored) sunk them. The Nuggets’ defense held up ok (giving up 124 points in overtime isn’t too bad), but struggled with defending Harrison Barnes. With Jerami Grant and Torrey Craig elsewhere, the Nuggets’ best option for defending big wings and forwards could be JaMychal Green – who is currently injured. Right now, their options on Kawhi and Paul George are the inexperienced Porter and the undersized Barton and Harris. That should open the door for a big night for the Clippers’ star wings.
- Guarding Jokic – The biggest reason the Clippers lost the Nuggets series, in the macro sense, is that they never figured out how to guard Nikola Jokic. Sure, he particularly destroyed Montrezl Harrell, and not playing him would have helped to slow the big Serb down, but even Ivica Zubac and JaMychal Green were struggling with Nikola. And that’s fine! Jokic is a superstar, one of the 10 best players in the NBA and one of the top 5 offensive weapons. However, the Clippers have changed their frontcourt, and Serge Ibaka will almost certainly get first crack at Jokic. Ibaka is a guy who theoretically can guard Jokic – he’s tall, long, and has enough quickness to contain some of Jokic’s drives. Having been in the Eastern Conference for a number of years, Ibaka doesn’t have a ton of experience guarding Jokic, but hopefully he can do a decent job on him. If so, having two capable-ish Jokic defenders would go a long way towards helping the Clippers beat the Nuggets in a future series.
- Revenge Game – The Clippers will presumably be coming into this game hungry. After all, as needs no reminder, this very same Nuggets squad (with a few changes) came back from 3-1 down in the 2020 playoffs to defeat the Clippers, adding yet another humiliation to a franchise already rife with them. Most of this Clippers squad is the same too, and the memory is obviously fresh in their minds. It’s a “new team, new season” mentality, but sheer human nature would make a change for revenge tough to overlook. I think the Clippers are placing more emphasis on the 2021 regular season than they did on the 2020 regular season in general, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them go extra hard in this one.
- The Backup Point Guard Spot – Reggie Jackson played for three minutes in the Clippers’ opening game against the Lakers, three minutes that felt like an eternity. He missed several shots, blew at least one assignment on defense, and was earning the ire of Clippers twitter as if he’d been playing poorly for weeks. Coach Ty Lue benched him the rest of the way, but it remains to be seen whether he will have more chances at the backup point guard role, if second-year guard Terance Mann will leapfrog him, or the Clippers move forward with Lou Williams and Luke Kennard stepping in as point guards. Jackson can shoot, but his decision-making on both ends of the court is atrocious, and he’s unplayable when he tries to do too much. Hopefully Mann gets a shot sooner or later, or Lue finds a way to reach Reggie and impress upon him his limited role.
- JaMychal Green Absent – One of the things Clippers fans were looking forward to in this game was seeing JaMychal Green, a key rotation player on the 2019 and 2020 Clippers teams. Unfortunately, JaMyke is dealing with a calf strain, and won’t play tonight. He will be a crucial piece to the Nuggets off the bench, as he is probably their best defender on bigger forwards (as mentioned above). Hopefully, he’s able to move past his injury quickly and will make his return sooner than later. With both Green and Morris out, the Clippers and Nuggets will each be shorthanded on Christmas, making this not quite a complete preview of a full-strength matchup.
Well, that’s about it for this Clippers vs Nuggets Christmas game preview. Happy Holidays everyone!