Clippers vs. Denver - Game Preview

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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13-6

14-7
STAPLES Center
February 2nd, 2012, 7:30 PM
TNT, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Ty Lawson
Chauncey Billups SG Arron Afflalo
Ryan Gomes SF Danilo Gallinari
Blake Griffin
PF Nene
DeAndre Jordan
C Timofey Mozgov

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

There is no hotter team in the NBA right now than the Los Angeles Clippers. Philadelphia shares their four game winning streak, but all of Philly's wins came at home, with two of them coming against the two worst teams in the league. The Clippers have beaten four teams with a combined winning percentage of .643, with two of those wins coming on the road. LA has yet another challenge tonight, facing a Denver team looking to avenge a loss from just four days ago. The Clippers have the advantage of playing at home, but are also playing the second game of a back to back. Still, as well as LA has played at home this season, I can't imagine that energy is going to be a big problem. Chris Paul has been playing like an MVP since fully recovering from his hamstring injury (still, no chants, per Another Son of Mike Smith). He's coming off of games of 26 points/14 assists and 34 points/11 assists. More importantly, he has the ability to get points in crunch time of close games. The team had also been filling it up from outside until last night in Utah. After a 5 for 22 night, hopefully their three point range will return tonight. Three pointers were a major factor in the first win over Denver, as the Clippers sank 14 of them.

The Antagonist:

Denver was on a roll of their own until they ran into the Clippers. They had won six in a row before losing to LA on Sunday, then lost in Memphis on Tuesday. In both games the Nuggets lost double digit fourth quarter leads, and held the lead in the final seconds. So the Nuggets will be looking to right their ship, while at the same time exacting a little revenge. Because Denver probably feels a little cheated from that last game -- the Clippers were on fire from deep, and some crucial calls down the stretch went LA's way as well. The Nuggets, as we noted last time, are a team without a traditional star, so it's difficult to know who you have to stop. Any one of six or seven guys are capable of having a big game.

The Subplots

  • Four days ago. The Clippers just played this team four days ago. Most of what I said in the preview for that game is still applicable today, so go read that one again if you like.
  • Red hot Clippers. Beyond the four game winning streak, the Clippers have just been incredibly good this season when Chris Paul has been in top form. They lost three games in a six game stretch where Paul missed five and then scored just four points in his first game back. Ignoring those six, LA has won 10 of their last 11 going back to January 1st, against some of the best teams in the NBA (Heat, Lakers, Mavs, Blazers, Nuggets, Thunder, Jazz, Grizzlies, Rockets).
  • All Star Starters. The All Star starters will be announced on TNT at 4 PM today. When they are, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will be among the ten names announced. It's hard to imagine a world in which the Clippers have not one but two All Star starters, but we're about to enter that world, and we could be in it for many years to come. The timing of the announcement serves to illustrate the contrast in these two teams even more -- the Nuggets are winning games without a single player who's ever made an All Star team, and it's highly unlikely that any of them will make it this season.
  • National TV. With the Clippers on a roll and the All Star starters being announced and the game on TNT, there is going to be a national spotlight on the Clippers tonight like no other regular season game in the team's history. There will be some of the usual backlash -- Charles Barkley will whine about Kevin Love being better than Blake Griffin, which is really neither here nor there, that sort of thing. For the most part, it will be a love fest, especially if the team plays well again.
  • When Paul scores. We've pointed this out before, but it continues to be true. When Chris Paul plays and scores more than 16 points, the Clippers are unbeaten, 9-0. When he plays and scores less than 16, they are 1-4. They are also 3-2 in games without Paul. Bottom line -- keep scoring Chris.
  • Billups. Former Nugget Chauncey Billups led the Clippers in last Sunday night's win in Denver with 32 points, including six threes. Billups was 1 for 8 with zero threes last night. Which Billups shows up tonight will have a big impact on this game.
  • Gallinari slumping. Denver's leading scorer Danilo Gallinari is 6 for 24 in their last two games, both losses. What's interesting about Gallo is that he has a reputation as a deadly shooter with unlimited range, but he's actually making fewer than 30% of this threes this season. His three point percentage has decreased every season he's been in the league, which is just weird -- young shooters don't get worse, they get better. If he can regain that touch, he could become an amazing scorer, because what he does now is attack the rim and get to the line.
  • The battle for second place. Oklahoma City is currently pretty comfortable in first place in the Western Conference at 17-4. After that, it's the Clippers (13-6) and Nuggets (14-7), with the Clippers percentage points ahead in the standings. The winner of this game will be alone in second. Sure, it's early to be worrying too much about the standings, but then again, in a 66 game season, every game becomes more important, especially those against playoff seeding rivals.
  • Clippers back to back. The Clippers are playing the second game of a back to back, after a tough and emotional win in Utah last night. Also, although it's not a big deal, it's worth noting that last night's game started later than usual in the Mountain Time zone to accommodate TV, and it wasn't over until almost 11:30 local time. That extra hour or two, when you're flying back to LA after midnight, makes a difference. This is also the Clippers fourth game in five nights, basically the worst possible scenario any other season, but not that unusual this year. Having said that, the Clippers have been so good at STAPLES this season, and the home crowds have been so big and so boisterous, that I really can't imagine a lack of energy. There could be some physically tired legs, but adrenaline can carry you a long way.
  • Get away game. This is the Clippers 20th game of the season, and 13th home game. That home/road disparity will even out -- starting NOW (OK, starting Saturday). The Clippers leave on a six game trip east on Saturday, the longest trip of the season (they have another six gamer at the beginning of March). By the time the Clippers are back in LA again, that home/road disparity will have completely disappeared. Obviously, in the last home game before a long trip, you want to get a win to leave on a good note.
  • Lawson back. Ty Lawson, the Nuggets' second leading scorer, missed the game Sunday with a sore ankle. He was back in the lineup Tuesday against the Grizzlies. The Nuggets play at the fastest pace in the league, and Lawson is a big part of that.
  • Gomes historically unproductive. Caron Butler sat out the Utah game with a sore back. He was a late scratch there, and could be fine for this one if the back responded to treatment, but backs are tricky things. In his absence, Ryan Gomes got the start, but you'd be forgiven if you didn't notice, as he was pretty easy to miss. Gomes played 21 minutes and recorded no points, no rebounds and no assists. The only positive stat he registered was a steal (and that ball more or less just came to him). It is the only time, at least since 1946, that an NBA player has been on the floor for over 20 minutes without getting a point or a rebound. So let's hope Butler can play tonight.
  • I thought we discussed this? Before the Utah game, I listed two rules for the Clippers rotation.
    Rule 1 - either Paul or Griffin should be on the floor at all times.
    Rule 2 - three of the big six should be on the floor at all times.
    Apparently, VDN doesn't read the blog, or maybe he just doesn't care about my silly rules. He sat both Griffin and Paul together with a minute left in the first quarter and for the first six minutes of the second quarter. Utah IMMEDIATELY went on a 17-2 run that turned a 5 point LA lead into a 10 point deficit, their largest of the game. We have these rules for a reason, Vinny.
  • Mozgov relieved. Nobody was happier when Blake Griffin threw down on Kendrick Perkins Monday night than Timofey Mozgov. Now he's not the worst dunk victim in NBA history. Not to mention that Perk is a great defender, so Mozgov can reasonably say that it could happen to anybody.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    nugget

    In Scotland, a nugget means "idiot" in it's purest term. You can use nugget in both an offensive and friendly context.

    Aw, dinnae be a nugget man, lets gan get some drink

  • Get the Nuggets perspective at Denver Stiffs.
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