Clippers Vs. Nuggets - Game Preview - The Pacific Division is Still in Play

Feb 22, 2012, Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Kenyon Martin (2) dunks the ball as Denver Nuggets guards Arron Afflalo (6) and Julyan Stone (10) watch at the Staples Center. The Clippers defeated the Nuggets, 103-95. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE
2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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38-23

34-27
Pepsi Center
April 18th, 2012, 6:00 PM
KCOP Channel 13, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Ty Lawson
Randy Foye SG Arron Afflalo
Caron Butler SF Danilo Gallinari
Blake Griffin
PF Kenneth Faried
DeAndre Jordan
C Kosta Koufos

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The regular season ends a week from today for the Clippers, believe it or not. They have five games left. If they win at least three of them, they guarantee themselves no worse than the fourth seed in the playoffs and home court advantage in the first round, no matter what fifth place Memphis does in their final five games. If the Clippers can win four or more, they will have a very good chance of catching the Lakers for the Pacific Division title and third place in the conference. After the Lakers were blown out by the Spurs last night, the L.A. teams are now tied in the loss column, but the Lakers own the season series tie-breaker, so a tie isn't good enough -- the Clippers have to finish ahead of them. It's entirely possible that the Lakers will lose two of their remaining four games as they have games against the Spurs and the Thunder remaining. Two Laker losses and four Clipper wins over the next nine days would give the Clippers their first Division title ever. The Clippers have four of their five remaining games against playoff teams on the road, starting tonight in Denver. The Nuggets have gotten hot at the right time, winning seven of their last ten, and now find themselves in sixth place in the West. In fact, if the Clippers do manage to pass the Lakers, this could be a first round matchup. This game also matters in the short term -- the Nuggets are the only team other than the Grizzlies that could conceivably catch the Clippers. An L.A. win tonight locks the Clippers into a finish no worse than fifth, while a Nuggets victory keeps a faint hope alive that they could climb all the way up to fourth and host a first round series. The season series between these two teams stands at 2-1 L.A. so a win also earns the tie-breaker for the Clippers, while a loss leaves it more up in the air.

The Antagonist:

As I mentioned above, the Nuggets have won seven of ten, but it's somehow not the most impressive stretch of games. It included wins over Charlotte, Golden State, Minnesota without Kevin Love, Orlando without Dwight Howard, and most two recent victories over a struggling Houston team. That second Rockets win actually clinched a playoff spot for the Clippers on Monday, but the Clippers don't need to be grateful. The Nuggets are getting relatively healthy for the first time all season, and that is certainly good news for them. Third leading scorer Danilo Gallinari has been back from a broken thumb for five games, but has not been overly sharp since returning (38% from the field). Wilson Chandler, who rejoined the Nuggets in March after playing most of the season in China, played only seven games before suffering a hip injury. He's expected back soon, but that won't be tonight according to the Denver Post. This is the first time the Clippers have seen the Nuggets since they traded Nene to the Wizards for JaVale McGee, the same trade that landed Nick Young with the Clippers. McGee has been enigmatic in Denver, as he was in Washington before that. He became the starter shortly after arriving in Denver -- but has been moved back to the bench in the last seven games. The Nuggets continue to play nine or ten people and don't really have a go to scorer. No one on the team averages as much as 16 points per game (Ty Lawson leads them at 15.9 and the other member of the backcourt Arron Afflalo averages15.2), and eight different players average 9 or more. If the Clippers can keep them from scoring easy transition buckets and keep Lawson and Afflalo under wraps, they should be able to win.

The Subplots

  • Tonight's Special Guest Recapper: Citizen johnnyoc21
  • Key Nuggets Metrics:
    Pace: 94.3 (2nd of 30 NBA Teams)
    Off Rtg: 108.4 (4th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 106.2 (21st of 30)
  • Key Clipper Metrics:
    Pace: 89.1 (28th of 30)
    Off Rtg: 108.4 (3rd of 30)
    Def Rtg: 105.3 (17th of 30)
    An interesting contrast in this one. The two teams have almost identical and very impressive offensive efficiency numbers -- but the Nuggets do it at the league's second fastest pace, while the Clippers play the third slowest game in the league. Both teams are below average in defensive efficiency. The pace of this game will be a key. We like it when the Clippers run, but they have to get back on defense and keep the Nuggets from getting easy scores.
  • Thunder win. The win over the Thunder was big for the Clippers. It was an impressive victory as they dominated the team that many think is the most talented in the Western Conference. But it just counts one win in the standings, and the Clippers can't have a let down against the Nuggets.
  • Hottest team in the league. The Clippers have won 12 of their last 14 games. Only the San Antonio Spurs have been close to that hot over the last four weeks.
  • Team ball. Counting Chauncey Billups, the Clippers have six current or former All Stars on their roster, the highest number of All Stars in the league last time I checked. The Nuggets have no one on their roster who has ever made an All Star team. George Karl and the Nuggets are bucking an NBA trend to build around a single star or preferably a group of stars, a trend that they were heavily invested in when Carmelo Anthony was in Denver. It's a refreshing approach, but it's far from certain that it will go anywhere in the NBA playoffs, when it becomes difficult to get a crucial score without that transcendent player to give the ball to.
  • Mozgov and Miller - Clipper enemies. Early in the second half of the second meeting, while the game was still close, Timofey Mozgov delivered a hard foul as Blake Griffin was attempting a dunk, knocking Griffin to the ground. It turns out, Andre Miller had told his teammates to put Griffin on his butt the next time he tried to dunk. In a court of law, they call that premeditation. As if Clippers fans needed another reason to dislike Mozgov (whose hard foul injured Eric Gordon last season) or Miller (already despised for obvious reasons). Mozgov has mostly fallen out of the Denver rotation in recent weeks, with Kosta Koufos getting the starts and McGee getting most of the backup minutes.
  • Kenneth Faried. The Nuggets have suffered a slew of injuries this season. Rudy Fernandez is out for the year, Gallinari has missed 23 games, and only veteran reserves Al Harrington and Andre Miller have played every game. The silver lining of all those injuries is that the Nuggets discovered a diamond in the rough in rookie Kenneth Faried. Faried is averaging 16 points and 12 rebounds per 36 minutes, while shooting almost 58% from the field. Those numbers are simply outstanding. He has a PER of 22, highest on the team.
  • Miller. The Clippers small backcourt hasn't hurt them as much as one might have suspected it would. Part of that is because even when guards have a significant height advantage, few of them have ever develop enough of a post game to exploit the advantage beyond getting a slightly better look at their jump shots. The same is not true of Andre Miller. Miller has always been a great post up guard, and he could cause major issues for either Chris Paul or Mo Williams. Eric Bledsoe on the other hand might have the strength to cope with Andre.
  • Denver defending Griffin. Blake scored 27 points on 11-18 shooting the last time these teams met. That's in large part because the Nuggets don't really have anyone who can guard him. Faried has been terrific and he's a great athlete, but at 6'8" 230, he's giving away a lot of size to Griffin. Mozgov isn't nearly quick enough to guard him, though we know he can foul him and end up on his poster. Harrington is pretty good at "pulling the chair" but that is about the extent of his tools for defending Griffin. Blake has lots of incentive against the Nuggets after what happened a couple games ago, and he will have the opportunity to have another big game.
  • Last meeting. In addition to Griffin's 27, Chris Paul scored a season-high 36 against the Nuggets in the last game. DeAndre Jordan had 10 points and 16 rebounds. No one else on the Clippers played well, or even acceptably. After the Thunder game in which all of the Clippers role players stepped up, it would be nice to have a similarly balanced effort in Denver tonight. Mo Williams was 2 for 16 the last time he played the Nuggets -- ick. Look for him to have a bounce back game.
  • Three point shooting. Surprisingly, the Nuggets are making just 33% of their three point shots on the season, 23rd in the league. Afflalo is the only rotation player who is shooting much better than that at 40%. Gallinari, Lawson and Harrington all take them, but aren't hitting a great percentage this season. Gallinari's three point percentage has gone down each season he has spent in the league -- 44% in limited minutes as a rookie, 38% his second season, 35% last year, down to 33% this year. That's not the trend line the Nuggets want to see.
  • Former Nuggets. Kenyon Martin will be facing many of his old teammates tonight. Reggie Evans was once a Nugget as well, though now that Nene is gone, he did not play with any current Nuggets. Of course Andre Miller is a former Clipper.
  • Scoreboard watching. Both the Lakers and Grizzlies are playing tonight, but it seems unlikely that either will lose. Memphis is at home against the Hornets, and though New Orleans beat them Sunday, that just makes it all the more likely that the Grizzlies will be focused on avenging the loss. Meanwhile, the Lakers play in Oakland against the Warriors, who are in full tank mode. They have four key players 'injured' (though three of them would probably be playing if these games mattered) and started four rookie against San Antonio on Monday. They actually signed former Clipper Mikki Moore before the Spurs game, when Moore played in an NBA game for the first time in 16 months. The Warriors would have to make about 50 three pointers to beat the Lakers tonight.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    nugget

    n. A person or a child who is cute, funny, and innocent. A way to describe someone lovingly who you cannot get over what they said, did, or just the way that they are because they are so darn cute! Must be said in a whiney-tone of voice. Nugggettt! Use it and people will follow your lead.

    look at that baby, he/she is such a nugget!

  • Get the Nuggets perspective at Denver Stiffs.
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