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Clippers at Denver - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season
Pepsi Center
November 5th, 2010, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, ESPN, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Eric Bledsoe
PG Chauncey Billups
Eric Gordon SG Arron Afflalo
Ryan Gomes
SF Carmelo Anthony
Blake Griffin
PF Nene?
Chris Kaman C Shelden Williams


The Back Story:

  • First meeting of the season.  Denver won the season series last year 2 games to 1.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers got their first win of the season on Wednesday, and it was timely indeed.  The team is undertaking their first multigame road trip of the season, and it's a murderous affair, with two sets of back-to-backs against four very tough teams who just happen to own the Clippers.  Tonight's opponent, the Nuggets, have won seven straight against the Clippers in Denver - and that's a very modest win streak compared to the other teams on the trip.  That is to say, none of these games will be easy, but this one is as winnable as any, probably more so.  The Clippers will likely be without Baron Davis and Randy Foye tonight, leaving 20 year old rookie Eric Bledsoe starting at the point for the third straight game.  Bledsoe was a revelation Wednesday against the Thunder, with 17 points and 8 assists.  Joining Bledsoe in their Eri-fic backcourt is Eric Gordon, who has had two straight big games (23 and 27).  Gordon is attacking the rim ferociously this season, and even showed signs of finding his outside shot on Wednesday, hitting 3 for 7 after starting the season 3 for 21.  He's a handful right now.  Blake Griffin is also a handful, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds.  Ryan Gomes has even begun to find his game, but unfortunately last year's leading scorer Chris Kaman has not.  After having a good game Monday against San Antonio, Kaman struggled again Wednesday, going 2 for 9 and missing multiple makeable shots - he's mired at 34% shooting on the season.  I think the Clippers, playing tough teams on the road and missing a key starter, will need to be firing on all cylinders, so they really need Kaman to get going.

The Antagonist:

The Nuggets are 2-2.  Like the Clippers, they've opened the season against some pretty good competition - Utah, New Orleans, Houston and Dallas.  The Clippers top two point guards are hurt for this game, and for the Nuggets their top three bigs may be out.  Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen are definitely sidelined, and Nene will be a game time decision after missing Wednesday's game with a sore groin.  Surprisingly, the one starting front court player they do have is the one that no one expected to be there - Carmelo Anthony.  Carmelo has made it known through his agent that he wants to be traded, and will not be signing the three year extension that Denver has on the table.  So the bottom line is that unless the Nuggets want to lose him without compensation (he'll be a free agent next summer), they need to trade him this season.  Everyone thought a deal was done back in late September, but the Nuggets didn't pull the trigger on the four team trade that had Carmelo landing in New Jersey.  They better hope they can get as good a deal at the trade deadline.  It's hard to imagine that the Carmelo situation won't be a major distraction for the Nuggets this season, and consequently a lot of pundits have them missing the playoffs.  We'll see.  With Billups and Anthony, this is a talented team.  They were written off two seasons ago when they traded Marcus Camby to the Clippers for cap relief, and all they did that season was go to the Western Conference playoffs.  So far, Carmelo has played great despite the controversy.  He's scoring as usual (almost 23 points per game), but he's doing so more efficiently, and rebounding at career high levels.

The Subplots

  • Trial by fire for Bledsoe. If Baron Davis and Randy Foye miss the four game trip, then this is the list of point guards that Eric Bledsoe will face in his first six starts as an NBA point guard: Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Chauncey Billups, Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Parker again.  For good measure, he saw some of Jason Kidd in the game before this string, which was his first significant NBA minutes.  Sheesh - Bledsoe's only 20 - isn't it child abuse to throw him at those guys?  All of them are either All Stars or international Gold Medalists - most of them are both.  Sometimes it seems like there are great point guards on every Western Conference team, but aside from Steve Nash, this is the list.  it doesn't get any better.  Welcome to the NBA, kid.  Meet Chauncey Billups.
  • Ditto for Gomes.  Life isn't much easier for Ryan Gomes right now.  After facing Kevin Durant on Wednesday, he'll face Carmelo Anthony tonight.  Along with LeBron James, these are the premier scorers at the small forward in the league.  Gomes did a fantastic job on Durant, but Anthony is a much different task - he's much bigger (not taller, just bigger) and stronger than KD.  Anthony is actually the type of small forward that Blake Griffin is well suited to defend - he's quick enough to stay in front of Melo, and strong enough to keep him out of the paint.  We'll see if the Clippers go to that matchup.
  • Our old pal Al Harrington.  It's been a couple seasons and he's with a different team now, but I love to tell the story any time I can.  Remember when Harrington was with the Knicks, and he got a technical foul for hanging on the rim after a dunk late in the game, and the technical free throw was crucial in allowing the Clippers to tie the game, which they eventually won?  And remember how that happened TWICE in the same season?  You can't make this stuff up.  It will be good to see Al again - he always makes me smile now.
  • What a difference a game makes.  Going into the game against the Thunder the Clippers were at or near the bottom of the league in several categories.  After holding the Thunder to 37% shooting and 4 for 26 from three, the Clippers are now in the middle of the pack in a bunch of key defensive metrics.  They're still the second worst shooting team in the league, despite shooting over 50% against OKC.
  • Big Advantage.  With so many key bigs out for the Nuggets, the Clippers should have a decided advantage with Chris Kaman and Blake Griffin against Shelden Williams and Gary Forbes.  Of course, we thought that the Clippers would have an advantage at the big positions against the Thunder too, and it was the guards who won the game for LA, so you just never know.
  • Another Team USA connection.  After facing Westbrook and Durant last night, and Stephen Curry last week, Eric Gordon will be reunited with his Team USA teammate Chauncey Billups tonight.  Billups was the starting two guard for Team USA, while EJ came off the bench, but there was a time when Chris Sheridan was suggesting that Gordon should have been starting over Billups.
  • Arron Afflalo.  Former UCLA Bruin Arron Afflalo is suddenly a scorer, after spending his first three seasons in the NBA as a a defensive specialist. His career scoring average is 6 points per game, but he's scoring almost 15 per this season.  He lit it up in pre-season too.
  • Tempo.  Coach Vinny Del Negro truly seems to want to play at a fast tempo - he's not just paying lip service to it.  Bledsoe was pushing the ball up in a hurry at every opportunity on Wednesday.  Of course, this strategy could backfire against the Nuggets, who are quite accustomed to playing at a fast pace. 
  • Altitude.  The Nuggets traditionally have one of the best home court advantages in the league, not least because Denver is in the mountains and the altitude makes it difficult for those damn California beach boys to catch their breath.  Bledsoe will no doubt feel exhausted the first couple of times up and down the court, especially if the Clippers are indeed pushing the tempo.  It's off to Salt Lake City for another game at altitude on Saturday.  The Clippers may be more adjusted to the altitude by the - thats the good news.  The bad news is that they'll be tired anyway on a back-to-back.
  • Superstar for one game: Gary Forbes.  If Nene can't play, look for Forbes to be the guy to have a career high against the Clippers.
  • Famous Quotation: 

    The first duty of a lecturer—to hand you after an hour's discourse a nugget of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks and keep on the mantlepiece for ever.

    Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own, ch. 1 (1929)
  • Get the Nuggets perspective at Denver Stiffs.