The Clippers take on the Denver Nuggets in a late season game with momentous playoff implications for the 3 seed in the Western Conference. Check out the full preview of the Clippers’ game against the Nuggets below.
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 7:00 PM PT
How to Watch: ESPN, Fox Sports Prime Ticket
Projected Starting Lineups
Nuggets: Facundo Campazzo – PJ Dozier – Aaron Gordon – Michael Porter Jr. – Nikola Jokic
Clippers: Reggie Jackson – Terance Mann – Paul George – Marcus Morris – Ivica Zubac
Nuggets: Jamal Murray Out (Achilles), Will Barton Out (Hamstring), Monte Morris Out (Hamstring), Zeke Nnaji Questionable (Ankle)
Clippers: Kawhi Leonard Questionable (Foot), Patrick Beverley Out (Hand), Serge Ibaka Out (Back), Amir Coffey Out (Health & Safety Protocols)
The Big Picture
The Clippers have lost two in a row after winning 11 of 12 throughout the better part of April. They fought hard against the Suns on Wednesday, but were ultimately undone by some poor shooting and the brilliance of Chris Paul. More worryingly, despite fairly strong overall play, there have to be concerns surrounding reps and cohesion entering the final few weeks of the season. Serge Ibaka hasn’t played in months, Pat Beverley seemingly hasn’t been fully healthy since January, and Kawhi Leonard has missed a nice chunk of games as well.
That means the full, updated Clippers roster (with Rajon Rondo) hasn’t played together, and there’s increasingly little time for them to before the playoffs begin. Leonard is questionable, meaning he’s on the border of a return even if he doesn’t come back for this one, and Ibaka and Beverley are practicing, but even if they do make it back in the next couple games, their conditioning and rhythm will be off. None of that is great news with not much time left before the bloodbath that will be the Western Conference Playoffs.
It’s been nine games since the Nuggets lost second-best player and starting point guard Jamal Murray for the rest of the season. In those nine games, the Nuggets are 8-1. In the process, they’ve pushed up the Western Conference standings, and now just a win back of the Clippers – if they beat the Clips, they will move into 3rd in the playoff bracket. The Nuggets aren’t just down Murray, but are also missing his ostensible replacement in Monte Murray and yet another ballhandler and creator in Will Barton. It seemingly hasn’t mattered, and the biggest (hah) reason for that is the play of Nikola Jokic, the frontrunner for the 2021 MVP. Combine Jokic’s brilliance with the breakout stardom of Michael Porter Jr. and a solid cast of supporting veterans (including former Clipper Austin Rivers), and you have a very dangerous team that’s just a hair short on firepower to be a true title contender.
Stopping Michael Porter Jr.: Jokic is going to get his. The big man is going to win MVP, and is the best offensive center in the NBA since prime Shaquille O’Neal. The key to beating the Nuggets, therefore, is to make sure other guys don’t go off. And first and foremost among the “other guys” is MPJ, who has exploded in the last 10 games. He’s averaging 25.5 points per game over that contest on exceptional scoring efficiency, and his height and shooting touch makes him very difficult to guard. If Kawhi Leonard is healthy, the Clippers should have three options to throw at him in their starting lineup. If Kawhi is not, Marcus Morris is probably the best bet, as the Clippers won’t want to tire out Paul George too much by sticking him on MPJ. Regardless of who is guarding him, the Clippers will need to do a good job of closing out without fouling, and watching Porter cutting to the rim.
Figuring Out Backup Center: With Serge Ibaka out, the Clippers will continue to proceed with a three-headed monster at backup center, with Patrick Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins, and Marcus Morris all getting time there. The Nuggets also vary their reserve frontcourt, but nearly always play big with at least two of JaMychal Green, Paul Millsap, and JaVale McGee on the court. Because of that, the Clippers can possibly get away with playing Patterson and Cousins together, a lineup that fans have been very wary of. This is especially true with Murray and Morris out for the Nuggets, quick guards who could attack a slower Clippers’ frontcourt. Still, the Nuggets’ bench has been playing well lately, and the Clippers need to be careful to not leave in their short bench for too long.
Austin Rivers Back: It is always good to see Austin Rivers, and he was recently signed by the Nuggets for the rest of the season after impressing on 10-day deals. With Murray, Morris, and Barton out, Rivers is getting big minutes for Denver, and the Clippers will likely see a lot of him tonight.
That about does it for this preview of the Clippers’ game against the Nuggets, which might well decide the 3 seed in the West. Stay tuned for injury updates and comment on the game below.