The LA Clippers take to the road against the Denver Nuggets hoping to erase the taste of Friday’s bitter loss.
Where: Ball Arena, Denver, CO
When: 7 PM PT
How to Watch: Clippervision, Bally Sports SoCal
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Russell Westbrook – Paul George – Kawhi Leonard – Marcus Morris Sr. – Mason Plumlee
Nuggets: Jamal Murray – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Michael Porter Jr. – Vlatko Cancar – Nikola Jokic
Clippers: Ivica Zubac out (right calf), Brandon Boston Jr. (G League Assignment), Jason Preston (G League Assignment)
Nuggets: Aaron Gordon out (left rib), Zeke Nnaji out (right shoulder)
The Big Picture
The Clippers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on Friday against the Sacramento Kings. They had multiple opportunities to close out the Kings in regulation and in both overtimes but failed to do so. Thankfully for them, the NBA allows for short-term memory with a chance to right the ship today against the Denver Nuggets.
There was just so much to process from Friday’s game that it’s understandable if everyone’s still feeling some kind of mental hangover. But with time running out in the regular season and the Western Conference playoff picture continuing to tighten, the Clippers can’t afford to come out with anything less than 100 percent focus on the Nuggets.
The Clippers currently sit in fifth place in the West, having dropped behind the Phoenix Suns. They are a mere half a game up on the sixth seeded Dallas Mavericks and two games up on the seventh seeded Golden State Warriors and eighth seeded Minnesota Timberwolves. For an older team like the Clippers, homecourt advantage matters. The more games you can get at home in the postseason, the better.
Overall, the Clippers new post-deadline additions have been doing well. Mason Plumlee has made Clippers fans imagine what the team’s record might have been like had they traded for a backup center much earlier in the season. Eric Gordon has been solid. And then Russell Westbrook was stellar in his role in his Clipper debut.
But the issues that plagued the Clippers on Friday are issues that have plagued them all season and won’t be solved simply by the addition of new players. Turnovers and defense are the two areas that continue to haunt the Clippers. They can’t seem to consistently take care of the ball and for younger teams that like to get out and push the pace, that’s death for the Clippers.
Scoring 175 points while allowing your opponent to score 176 is an anomaly and won’t happen again. But beyond the surface, those lingering issues need to be ironed out fast and it’s not clear if that will happen this season.
The Denver Nuggets represent a different sort of challenge than the Kings. They play at a slower pace and run things through MVP candidate Nikola Jokic. Jokic is on the verge of becoming the first non-guard in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season. Not having Ivica Zubac to counter him is going to hurt. Jokic can attack you in different ways and it’s a tough task to ask a reserve center like Plumlee to try and slow him down.
The Nuggets have done a good job surrounding Jokic with shooters to take advantage of his passing ability. In the current starting lineup, only Jamal Murray is shooting less than 40 percent from three-point range and he’s at 38.8 percent.
The Nuggets are a team that has taken their playoff lumps in the past couple of seasons and they’ve transformed themselves into a legitimate contender in the West. They hold the best record in the West and should be considered a top favorite to reach the NBA Finals.
They will be coming off a back-to-back though, having lost a big game on Saturday to the second seeded Memphis Grizzlies. However, that disadvantage will likely will be evened out by the Clippers adjusting to the mile-high altitude. The Nuggets are without Aaron Gordon, their best defender and a key piece to their team. But the Clippers are short-handed too with no Zubac.
This will not be an easy game, but it’s one the Clippers need in order to keep pace in the standings and to show that they can hang with the elite teams in the West.
-Terance Mann was likely to be one of the players most affected by the Russell Westbrook addition, and sure enough that was the case on Friday. It was expected that he would lose his starting spot, but that wouldn’t have been an issue if his minutes remained consistent. They did not, and after the game Tyronn Lue was left admitting that he should have played Mann more. The Clippers desperately needed someone capable of defending De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk and Mann would’ve been that player. It will be interesting to see if Lue makes the proper adjustments with Jamal Murray up next.
-This will be a homecoming/reunion of sorts for both teams. This will be the first time Reggie Jackson squares off against the Clippers and Bones Hyland faces the Nuggets since the the trade deadline. It’s two completely different situations too. Jackson parted from the Clippers on good terms while things were a little shaky with Hyland and the Nuggets. Westbrook’s addition has completely removed Hyland from the rotation but Jackson is the Nuggets backup point guard. Although there were no hard feelings, Jackson might have a little more pep in his step for this game.