The Back Story:
First meeting of the season. Denver swept the season series last year 4-0 (but the first two were at least close).
The Big Picture:
The Clippers have lost two straight wire to wire against teams that were 3-8 and 2-10 at the time. Now they get to face the 8-3 Nuggets who beat the Lakers by 26 a week ago. This could get ugly. The Clippers remain without Eric Gordon (who is due back for Monday's game) and of course Blake Griffin, the two cornerstones of the future. They lost reserve guard Kareem Rush to a season-ending ACL tear on Tuesday night. And Marcus Camby, the former Nugget, is questionable with a lower back bruise. Baron Davis and Chris Kaman have been very good this season - but aside from Al Thornton beginning to show some life lately, the production from the rest of the team has been anemic. But offensive production aside, the team really needs to come out and give a solid effort tonight. They lost the game in New Orleans because they didn't rebound, losing that battle by 15. They lost the game in Memphis because they didn't defend, allowing the Grizzlies to shoot 54%. Rebounding and defense are about effort.
The Nuggets seem to be picking up where they left off with a Western Conference Finals berth last season. A very high payroll forced them to say goodbye to starter Dahntay Jones and key reserve Linas Kleiza - but they don't seem to be any the worse for it. They picked up Arron Afflalo to fill Jones' spot - athletic wing who defends and doesn't need the ball much. And whereas they don't appear to have a replacement for Kleiza, maybe they don't need one. Meanwhile, rookie Ty Lawson seems to be a steal at the 18th pick in the draft, and a major upgrade for them backing up the point guard position. With J.R. Smith back from suspension and heating up (he's increased his scoring each of the four games he's played this season, from 5 to 18 to 20 to 29) and Carmelo Anthony averaging almost 30 points per game, the Nuggets can score with anybody. Like I said, this could get ugly.
- 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 20 times. Baron has a slightly higher scoring average and more assists in their meetings. Baron is also having an arguably better season than Chauncey this year; his PER is higher, he's scoring a little more, handing out more assists and shooting a better percentage from the field, though Chauncey's shooting numbers are better when you consider three pointers and free throws. Still, you can't really measure Billups' impact in the box score alone, as we saw last season.
- Another Really Rested Opponent. For the second consecutive game, the Clippers are facing an opponent coming off a nice long rest. The Nuggets haven't played since Tuesday, and that was their only game in a week. Maybe they'll be rusty. Yeah, that's it.
- Kaman vs. Nene. Nene is a very talented player who has given Kaman real trouble in the past. It will be interesting to see how the new version matches up. Nene is coming off a monster game Tuesday, his best of the year - 20 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 4 blocks - he almost got one of those AK47 5 by 5's. Nene's numbers so far this season are almost identical to last season, which was a breakout. He doesn't really get enough recognition - this guy is good.
- Defending the wings. For the Clippers to have any chance in this game, they're going to have to keep Carmelo and J.R. from going off - no small matter. Al Thornton is a better on ball defender than he is off the ball, so putting him on Carmelo may be the best way to go. Smith may see some second stringer like Ricky Davis, but it won't matter much - when J.R. Smith is on, no one in the NBA can stop him except J.R. Smith.
- When will the booing start? Given the mood around the fan base right now, it won't take much to get the boos going tonight. People are pissed, and it's hard to blame them. If the Clippers fall behind, the crowd is going to get hostile real quick.
- Rhino Time? If Camby can't go tonight, Craig Smith will likely get the start at power forward. This will help the scoring, but will hurt the team defense - Rhino's not exactly a shot blocker. DeAndre Jordan will need to play significant minutes, and Brian Skinner may get some burn as well.
- Perimeter shooting. How badly to the Clippers miss Eric Gordon? Well, in the six games EJ's been out (five of them losses) the team has made just 25 of 85 three pointers - 29.4%. Without credible three point threats on the floor, defenses are free to sag onto Kaman with impunity.
Ridiculous Lucky Captain Rabbit King. Lucky Captain Rabbit King Nuggets are for the youth.
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