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Denver 120 - Clippers 104

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Final - 4.4.2009 1 2 3 4 Total
Los Angeles Clippers 21 26 29 28 104
Denver Nuggets 32 34 30 24 120

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Although the Clippers were far from competitive in this game, falling behind by double digits in the first quarter, 19 by halftime and then 22 on the first basket of the second half.  The Nuggets shot 53% from the field, and while it's not as if the Clippers played good defense, it wouldn't have really mattered.  It goes without saying that the Clippers were out-gunned, missing Al Thornton (and the next two small forwards on the depth chart) and Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby, their top two centers.  But the way J.R. Smith is playing right now, they could have fielded the NBA all defense first team and still lost.

Smith entered the game with 4:26 remaining in the first quarter and the Nuggets up two.  He scored 18 straight points in a span of 5 minutes and 20 seconds, stretching the lead to twelve, and it remained double digits the rest of the game.  Sure, the matchup against Mike Taylor when he first entered was just unfair with Smith enjoying a 4 inch and 50 pound advantage (though who knew he had that post up game?).  But Alex Acker came in and I thought he played some very good defense - while Smith hit a crazy array of threes off the dribble, stepping back, around screens and every other way you can imagine. 

After scoring 28 against Utah on Thursday while making 8 threes, he scored 34 while making 7 (in 26 minutes, and frankly he cooled off quite a bit in the end) against the Clippers.  Here's what the fantasy news portion of ESPN.com's player profile says about Smith right now:

There was a setting in the old NBA Jam video game when a player simply couldn't miss. The game announcer would yell "He's on Fire!", and then the player could hit shots from all over the court. Smith is in that zone right now, having hit 15 treys in his last two games and 25-of-50 from long range over his last five games.

Yup, something like that.  He's in the proverbial zone.  The Clippers lost him a couple of times, which is inexcusable.  But I'd say at least five of his three pointers made were what you would call 'bad shots' - George Karl would call them that, I would call them that, even Don Nelson would call them that.  But it didn't matter. 

Here's a question: name a more talented NBA player who was traded for a second round pick while he was still on his rookie contract (i.e. it wasn't a salary dump).  Ever.  I'm trying to think of one, but I can't.

Smith's show rendered the Nuggets' ridiculous advantage at small forward (where Fred Jones and Eric Gordon split time on Carmelo Anthony) secondary.  Nene and Chauncey Billups also enjoyed huge advantages in their matchups - but they took a mere five shots each (making four each) because Smith was so busy shooting the ball.

For the Clippers, we knew going in that Zach Randolph, Baron Davis and Eric Gordon would have to have huge games in order for the Clippers to have any sort of chance.  Randolph, 22 and 12 in 35 minutes, not bad.  Baron, 16 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals.  We'll take that.  Gordon.  1 for 10, 7 points.  Ouch.  It was Gordon's worst shooting night of the season, and particularly troubling for a couple of reasons.  For one, his three attempts from behind the arc were all wide open - the kinds of shots we expect him to make.  So it certainly feels like a slump as opposed to the cause and effect of increased defensive attention.  Moreover, it was the continuation (and hopefully the nadir) of a series of bad games in the last three weeks that began with a 1 for 8 performance against the Warriors on March 17.  The Ides of March are no problem.  It's the rest of the season of which you have to beware, evidently.

One wonders what this J.R. Smith explosion means for the Nuggets going into the playoffs.  He's the mega wild card.  Will he remain this hot?  Or will he he simply shoot as it he thinks he's still this hot?  Maybe they should hang on to those stupid green unis.