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Clippers @ Denver - Game Preview

2008/2009 NBA Regular Season
Pepsi Center
March 14th, 2009, 6:00 PM
KTLA Channel 5, 710 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis
PG Chauncey Billups
Eric Gordon
SG J.R. Smith
Al Thornton
SF Carmelo Anthony
Marcus Camby
PF Renaldo Balkman?
Chris Kaman
C Nene

The Back Story:

  • October 31, 2008 in LA - Denver 119 - Clippers 109   box score   recap
  • November 26, 2008 in LA - Denver 106 - Clippers 105   box score   recap

The Big Picture:

Thank the FSM they're playing basketball again.  The three days since the Clippers squandered a 19 point fourth lead against LeBron and the Cavs have been glacial.  But it's finally game day.  Unfortunately, the Clippers will not have their full strength lineup for the second straight game.  Zach Randolph is attending his father's funeral in Indiana and will not be with the team in Denver.  The good news is that, hopefully, Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby will be stronger than they were against the Cavs.  Kaman was ultra-rusty in that game, and Camby wasn't even supposed to play because of the fluid in his head, which was causing migraines and vertigo.  With both of them on curtailed minutes, MDsr went with Kaman down the stretch with disastrous results.  Without Randolph available, let's hope that Kaman and Camby can play (a) longer and (b) more effectively in this one.  Other than Randolph's absence, the Clippers are about as healthy as they've been.  The small forward position is a little thin.  Ricky Davis is out and Mardy Collins is questionable with his plantar fasciitas.  Neither is a huge loss individually, but the Clippers will be almost entirely dependent on Al Thornton at the three.  Defensively it definitely hurts - MDsr will choose Mardy Collins to defend Carmelo Anthony some if he has the option.  If Collins can't go, Fred Jones at 6'4" could see some time on the 6'9" Anthony.  In the altitude in Denver is a tough place to win, and the Nuggets are 25-24 at home this season (as compared to 17-17 on the road).  But overall, I like the way the Clippers match up against the Nuggets.  Baron Davis has to work hard on Chauncey Billups, but he certainly is capable of guarding him.  Eric Gordon needs to have a big game.  But if the team plays well, they can win.


The Antagonist:

The Nuggets have been struggling, losing 5 of their last 7.  And in the Western Conference, struggling, even just a little, can be the difference between the third seed and the eighth seed.  The Nuggets enter this game seventh in the west, only one game ahead of Dallas - but they're also a mere half game out of first in their Division which would mean home court advantage in the first round.  They're fortunate that Phoenix has lost 6 straight and dropped off the pace or they'd be in danger of missing the playoffs.  What happened to the team that until recently had the second best record in the Conference?  Well, when they sold Marcus Camby to the Clippers this summer to get under the luxury tax, they were betting on their two quality bigs (Nene and Kenyon Martin) staying healthy.  Given their injury histories, the odds were against them.  Against those odds, Nene has played in 63 of 65 games this season, after playing in 16 games all last season, and 3 minutes in 05-06.  Martin has also been mostly healthy - until recently.  KMart has missed 10 games so far, including 4 of the last 5 with back spasms.  He is listed as questionable for this game, but I'd be surprised if he plays.  Home against the Clippers with a dicey back - that's a rest day.  But the story of the Nuggets this season isn't their recent struggles - it's their positive turnaround after acquiring Chauncey Billups.  When Denver acquired Billups from Detroit for Iverson, the Nuggets starting playing great - and the Pistons went the other way.  Their money woes have left the team painfully thin - among their top seven are Chris Andersen who was out of the league on a drug suspension, and Dahntay Jones who was basically out of the league also.  And they recently signed Jason Hart to provide point guard depth - that's Jason Hart, Clipper fans.  But they have terrific talent from the 1 though the 5 when they're healthy.

The Subplots:

  • A Timely Subject.  I want to be perfectly clear that I think that Zach's three at the end of the game against Cleveland was a terrible shot.  It was bad, bad, bad.  BUT, continuing a point that I made yesterday, it's just not credible to say it was the dumbest play ever, or whatever Bill Simmons' emailers say.  Case in point - in the first meeting between LA and Denver, after the Nuggets tied the game with 8 seconds left, the Clippers went to Tim Thomas - who failed to get the shot away in time.  So Zach's shot, while really bad, is not as bad as no shot at all, right?
  • Carmelo Anthony.  As you may recall, I've never been a fan of Carmelo.  His sometime struggles and penchant for picking up technical fouls in Clipper games have no doubt skewed my perspective somewhat.  But every time we're told that it's a new Melo and that he's matured, something else happens.  The most recent incident, where George Karl subbed him out of the game but he stayed on the floor, was completely unacceptable.  As a friend of mine, another youth sports coach, said to me, "Oh, that's not that unusual.  I've had nine year olds refuse to come out of the game."  Exactly.  Even his reaction, his "sprint to the bench" in his first game back after serving the suspension, struck me as churlish.  You know, countermanding your coach is very serious.  Making light of it is not an appropriate response.  But that's just me.
  • Nene.  As I mentioned above, when the Nuggets made a strictly financial decision to send Camby to the Clippers, they were hoping that Nene would have a strong season.  But no one could have expected this.  He's averaging career highs in points, rebounds, blocks, PER... well, everything.  He's second in the league in field goal percentage at 60%.  And he's played in 97% of the games with career high minutes per.  This is a case, where if a Denver fan had told you before the season that the Nuggets would be good and that Nene was going to play like this, you'd have said "Dream on Mr. Optimist."  But sometimes it works out this way.
  • Al Thornton - Stopper?  Al Thornton was assigned to LeBron James on Tuesday, and although it seems strange to say considering that the King went for 32 points and 11 assists, he did a good job on him (yes, LeBron is that good).  He worked hard, fought to stay in front of him, battled back to him on screens, and tried to give him jump shots while taking away the basket (LeBron was 0 for 6 on threes in the game).  Al's biggest weaknesses on defense center around decision-making.  Where do I rotate, when do I rotate, should I hedge to the ball handler, that sort of thing.  Defending the opposition's number one scorer makes the decision making part easier - GUARD MAN.  Al obviously took the LeBron assignment as a challenge - let's see how he does on Melo.
  • 0-2, 2-0.  The first two games of the season were decided by the thinnest of margins.  In the first game, Denver erased a double digit fourth quarter deficit (sound familiar?) to send the game into overtime.  Baron played 13 minutes in that one before exiting with an injury.  In the second game, the Clippers had a chance to win at the buzzer but Marcus Camby's three pointer came up short.  Kaman played 12 minutes before exiting with an injury.  Can the Clippers avoid a key injury and actually get a win against the Nuggets?
  • Holiday schedule.  Game 1 between these two teams was on Halloween.  Game 2 was the day before Thanksgiving.  This one is just before St. Patrick's Day.  The final meeting is the day before Palm Sunday.  So there's that.
  • 06 Playoffs.  Remember the 06 playoffs, when the Clippers destroyed the Nuggets 4 games to 1?  That was fun.
  • Kaman.  As it happens, Chris Kaman is the only current Clipper who was there for that fun playoff series.  Kaman doesn't have a filter when he's talking, and he's been known to be a little too honest with his thoughts.  Tuesday before the Cavs game he was holding forth (Kaman is about 5 minutes into the podcast) with reporters in front of his locker, and said things like "If I was a fan I wouldn't want to watch this mess" and discussed "this curse, but I don't believe in curses, but it's a curse" or some such thing.  If you view him as a lovable goofball, it's all fine.  But team management must get a little tired of dealing with this "loose cannon" as MDsr called him.  MDsr has always been a big Kaman supporter, but this season must have put a major strain on their relationship.  Clearly the coach was referring directly to him when he alluded to players and their agents not being anxious to get back on the court, and then in his first game back he's callling the team a mess.  I'll tell you what was a mess on Tuesday - Chris Kaman's offense.  Maybe he should wait until he has a decent game before he starts casting apersions.
  • Eric Gordon. Eric Gordon scored 35 points in his first game back from injury against the Pacers, and then scored 12 in the first half the next game against the Cavs.  Not only that, he also busted out a couple of crossover moves that were eye-popping - frankly, I didn't know he could do that.  Then he had two points in the second half.  I'm not sure what happened, but he and/or the team as a whole needs to figure out how to keep him from disappearing late in games.  He's too important to the team.
  • Superstar for one game. Renaldo Balkman.  With Martin hurt, Balkman started the last game and responded with a 14/14 double-double.  He's the kind of 'energy' player the Clippers sometimes have trouble with (think Paul Millsap or Carl Landry.  So he could have a big game.
  • Movie Quote: 

    This is the country where the nuggets of gold are just crying out for you to take them out of the ground and make 'em shine in coins and on the fingers and necks of swell dames.

    Fred C. Dobbs - The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).  How about that?  A Bogie quote featuring the phrase 'swell dames.'  It doesn't get much better than that.
  • Get the Nuggets perspective at Pickaxe and Roll.