Los Angeles Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets - Game Preview

LOS ANGELES CA - JANUARY 05: Eric Gordon #10 of the Los Angeles Clippers drives between Kenyon Martin #4 and Chauncey Billups #1 of the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center on January 5 2011 in Los Angeles California. Nene was charged with a foul on the play. The Clippers won 106-93. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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22-40

37-26
Staples Center
March 5th, 2011, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Mo Williams
PG Ty Lawson
Eric Gordon SG Arron Afflalo
Ryan Gomes
SF Wilson Chandler
Blake Griffin
PF Kenyon Martin
DeAndre Jordan
C Nene

 

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers were 2-12 in the month of February. They're 1-0 in the month of March. It's no coincidence that they played all of those February games without Eric Gordon, who was back in the lineup for Wednesday's win. Nor is it a coincidence that 12 of those February games were on the road, but they were back home on Wednesday. The Clippers on the whole are as healthy as they have been all year - arguably as close to 100% as any NBA team can be playing in March. Gordon, the latest to return to action, scored 24 points in 34 minutes on Wednesday, and Chris Kaman, who was out for essentially three months before coming back just before the All Star Break, scored 21 in 23 minutes. So if those at the injured guys, then it seems like the team is pretty healthy. Newest Clipper Mo Williams has even been through a practice with his new team now, so everything is falling into place. On the heels of the Houston game, we can assume that the big rotation is pretty well set - Kaman, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are going to get most if not all of the minutes at the 4 and 5. One the wings it's less clear. Ryan Gomes will likely remain the starter for now, but both Jamario Moon and Al-Farouq Aminu got substantial minutes in a three man platoon on Wednesday. The other situation to keep an eye on is Eric Bledsoe; with Gordon, Williams and Randy Foye all healthy, Bledsoe did not play in the second half versus the Rockets. He may get a few more minutes tonight, if only to matchup with Ty Lawson.

The Antagonist:

You really have to hand it to the Nuggets. After trading Carmelo Anthony to New York in a trade that was simultaneously the least and most surprising development of the NBA season, the Nuggets have five out of six games, most of them by double digit margins. Weren't the Knicks supposed to be the big winners in that trade? And by the way, don't the Nuggets still have several more assets (i.e. draft picks) to collect from that deal? In fact I'm not particularly surprised that the Nuggets got better in dealing Anthony - I've never been a big fan, I think he's overrated, and the Nuggets got a pretty nice haul for Melo and Billups - but I am surprised (maybe even shocked) that they're having such immediate success. More often than not, even if a trade is a major success in the big picture, it can be a difficult adjustment in the short run. But not in this case - the Nuggets are simply playing some of their best basketball of the season, just days removed from trading the face of their franchise. The Nuggets traded two starters, and in fact their two all stars. Starting at point guard now for the departed Billups is Ty Lawson, who's arguably been better than Billups for most of the season. At small forward they're starting Wilson Chandler, one of the many assets they received from the Knicks. It's also worth noting that the Nuggets are playing great, even though one of the top prizes from the Anthony trade, Danilo Gallinari, has missed the last few games with a broken toe. The Nuggets are doing it with a group effort and no single go to scorer; quite a contrast to the Carmelo Nuggets.

The Subplots

  • Last meeting. When these teams met in December in Staples Center, the Clippers won in convincing fashion. Eric Gordon scored 28 and Blake Griffin 22 - but the real star of the game was DeAndre Jordan, with 14 points, 20 rebounds and 6 blocked shots.
  • Gordon makes a difference. It goes without saying, but the Clippers are simply a much better team with Eric Gordon on the floor. LA doesn't have enough players they can give the ball to and expect them to make good things happen. But with EJ back on the court Wednesday, things just came easier for the offense; Gordon's a terrific individual scorer, and the other players seemed to be better spaced and more active off the ball with EJ out there.
  • No Billups, no Davis. How weird is it to be seeing the Clippers and the Nuggets with out Billups and Baron Davis playing? Not that either had been with their respective teams for too long, but they're both very well known, veteran leaders and their battles were always interesting. Now it's Mo Williams and Ty Lawson battling at the point. Somehow, not the same.
  • Blake and Kenyon. One matchup to watch, especially where fouls are concerned, is Kenyon Martin defending Blake Griffin. KMart has never been afraid to give hard fouls, and teams have certainly shown a penchant for roughing up Griffin this season. It's somewhat to be expected - no one wants to be in his next poster, and as long as he's shooting around 60% from the line, there's not much disincentive to foul him. Add in the fact that he's going to power through a touch foul, and it's a formula for lots and lots of contact, something that Martin is more than comfortable delivering. I predict that it will get chippy between the two of them tonight, especially if the refs don't keep it reined in early.
  • Denver's window. 22 months ago, the Nuggets were battling the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. Now they're adjusting to life without Carmelo Anthony. I like what they got for Melo - Chandler and Gallinari and Felton can all play - but the conventional wisdom in the NBA is that you have to have a superstar, and they thought they had him before, and now they certainly don't. So as much as I think they had to make the trade and got a good deal, it's pretty hard to argue that they improved their chances of winning a championship.
  • Balanced Nuggets. In the six games since they traded Anthony, the Nuggets have been led in scoring by five different players - JR Smith, Ty Lawson, Keyon Martin, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler - Arron Afflalo has had some good scoring games as well. Almost anyone on this team has the ability to heat up and score a bunch.
  • Clippers should be favored. I say the Clippers should be the favorites in this game, and I have a very simply way of establishing that: the Clippers are 17-15 at home this season, the Nuggets are 11-19 away. The game is in Staples, so the Clippers should be favored.
  • How do you say "Not you again!" in Russian? Part of Denver's haul in the Anthony deal was rookie center Tomofey Mozgov. Mozgov thought he was done playing the Clippers in Staples Center this season after the Clippers-Knicks game in November in which Blake Griffin created an international incident by climbing over Mozgov to dunk the ball without asking Mozgov's permission. Now Mozgov is back in Staples facing the same guy who violated him. Awkward. Of course, Mozgov had a very good game against the Clippers when these teams met in New York, but this may all be moot - Mozgov has barely played since joining the Nuggets.
  • Superstar for one game: Ty Lawson. After he threw in a half court buzzer beater last time, I have a feeling he has the Clippers number. 
  • Famous Quotation: 

    Men rush to California and Australia as if the true gold were to be found in that direction; but that is to go to the very opposite extreme to where it lies. They go prospecting farther and farther away from the true lead, and are most unfortunate when they think themselves most successful. Is not our native soil auriferous? Does not a stream from the golden mountains flow through our native valley? and has not this for more than geologic ages been bringing down the shining particles and forming the nuggets for us? Yet, strange to tell, if a digger steal away, prospecting for this true gold, into the unexplored solitudes around us, there is no danger that any will dog his steps, and endeavor to supplant him. He may claim and undermine the whole valley even, both the cultivated and the uncultivated portions, his whole life long in peace, for no one will ever dispute his claim. They will not mind his cradle or his toms. He is not confined to a claim twelve feet square,... but may mine anywhere, and wash the whole wide world in his tom.

    Henry David Thoreau, The Writings of Henry David Thoreau
  • Get the Nuggets perspective at Denver Stiffs.
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