The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
If you think about it, the Clippers have actually been remarkably consistent this season. Since opening the season by losing four consecutive games, the Clippers have been no higher than one game below .500, and no lower than five games below .500. When it's looked like they might really fold, they've pushed back and gotten key wins. And when it looked like they might break through to .500, they've always managed to lose (most recently via a Chris Kaman injury and a broken water main). See what I mean? Consistent. One of the huge wins of the season came against the Nuggets back in November. Sitting at 4-9 and staring at the prospect of another lost season, the Clippers somehow managed to beat the Nuggets despite the absence of Eric Gordon. That last point is key, as EJ is questionable for tonight after spraining his big toe in last night's win. Without Gordon in November, Rasual Butler scored 27 to lead the Clippers (it was his Clipper high until he scored 33 against Cleveland Saturday). If indeed Gordon is unable to go, the Clippers will have to get huge games from Baron Davis and Chris Kaman and probably a couple of other guys just to have a chance. A win - against a good team, at altitude, beginning a long road trip, on a back to back, on National TV - would be huge. But frankly, I'm not optimistic.
The Nuggets have won four straight - and no coincidentally four games ago is when Carmelo Anthony returned from a minor knee injury. The Nuggets don't have a lot of depth, and Carmelo recently missed five games while Chauncey Billups missed eight. But lucky for the Clippers, everyone is healthy again. And when the Nuggets are at full strength and playing at home - they're almost impossible to beat. Carmelo's scoring is through the roof this season - a league leading 30 points per game, after a mere 22.8 last season. He has always been one of the truly gifted scorers in the league - players with his combination of size and skill just don't come along very often. He'll be a tough cover for the Clippers tonight. Billups himself has been on a tear lately - he's averaging 26 ppg on 48% shooting in his six games since returning from his groin injury. That's really bad news for Denver opponents - he had been shooting around 40% before the injury. I would assume that the November loss will be on Denver's mind and that they'll come out ready for the Clippers tonight.
- Tough at home. It likely has at least something to do with the altitude, but the Nuggets have one of the best home court advantages year in and year out. Their three home losses ties them for fewest in the league, and their 18 home wins is second only to the Lakers.
- Mixed bag this trip. The Clippers are starting a season-long 8 game road trip. Four of their games are against the teams ranked 1, 3, 4 and 5 in Marc Stein's latest Power Rankings (and they just played the Lakers last week of course). They also play the teams ranked 30, 29 and 28. Only the Bulls Feb. 2 are in the middle of the pack.
- 9 and 1. The Clippers starting lineup of Kaman, Camby, Butler, Gordon and Baron Davis is now 9 and 1 on the season. Of course, if Eric Gordon can't play, the record will remain 9 and 1. The truth is, that group has just happened to miss some pretty unwinnable games - like at the Lakers for instance. I hope we get to see them play the Nuggets tonight - but I have a feeling we won't, and I also have a feeling that it wouldn't matter even if we did.
- Back to backs. The schedule makers tried to make it even. LA to Denver after a 7:30 tip is a tough, tough travel schedule. But as it happens, the Nuggets were in Oakland last night facing the Warriors, so they have more or less the same trip. And Golden State did us a favor, sending the game into overtime (Denver finally won). So both teams are on a back to back, and both had to travel. So will either of the teams look tired? Will both?
- Baron versus Chauncey. Baron Davis and Chauncey Billups have been playing against each other for 11 seasons. I was a little surprised to see that they've only played head to head against each other 21 times. Baron got the best of him in the first meeting, when Billups scored only 5 points. Somehow I have a feeling he's going to score more than that tonight.
- Gordon - to rest or not to rest? There's no good time to get injured. But the only extended rest on this trip comes between game 1 and game 2, when the Clippers have two days off between Denver and DC. Given that the Clippers are unlikely to beat the Nuggets either with or without Gordon, and that the Wizards game is quite winnable, this is a case where it probably makes sense for him to take the night off and get better for the rest of the trip. The Clippers are 3 and 6 in games without Gordon this season - 16 and 16 with him.
- Defense. During their recent four game winning streak, the Clippers were defined by their defense. In particular, they were able to shut down or at least contain high scoring shooting guards for the Blazers, Lakers and Heat. And in the past, MDsr has had success game planning for Carmelo and the Nuggets. But this is a different Carmelo, and frankly a different Clippers team. Can Rasual Butler handle Carmelo? If he can't, then who can? Kaman and Camby can help at the rim, but Carmelo can score in a lot of different ways, and he's a lot bigger than Butler. It could be a long night trying to defend him.
Ty Lawson. The Nuggets have been strapped for cash for a few seasons, which is why the Clippers were able to get Marcus Camby for nothing. This summer, they let their starting shooting guard (Dahntay Jones) go because they didn't want to pay him, but they managed to get deeper without spending much money. Aron Afflalo gives them more or less what Jones gave them last season. More importantly, rookie Ty Lawson has been terrific. He stepped in and started while Billups was out, and the Nuggets have played with both of them on the floor some since Chauncey's return.
- The Bench. The Clippers bench has been much better lately. Al Thornton played well against the Bulls. Craig Smith has been on a tear. The Clippers will need a big effort tonight. Sebastian Telfair left the Chicago game late after taking a tough fall and apparently he strained his groin. According to MDsr after the game, he won't even make the trip. That means minutes at the point for Mardy Collins, where he has struggled this season. [Note by Steve Perrin, 01/21/10 9:41 AM PST ] A quick clarification - MDsr's post game comment on Telfair was a little ambiguous. "Telfair will not travel. He pulled his groin muscle and will stay back for treatment." I interpreted that as not traveling the entire road trip, which frankly doesn't make much sense for a groin pull. Jim Peltz of the LA Times interpreted it as Bassy wouldn't travel last night - implying that he could catch up with the team at a later stop on the trip. That makes more sense.
Remember a few years ago when we were at a saloon in Denver? We got to talking to some gambler that night, and he told us about an Indian. A full-blooded Indian, except he called himself by an English name. Sir... somebody.
- Get the Nuggets perspective at Denver Stiffs.