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Clippers at Denver - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season

Pepsi Center
December 3rd, 2010, 6:00 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Eric Bledsoe
PG Chauncey Billups
Eric Gordon SG Arron Afflalo
Al-Farouq Aminu
SF Carmelo Anthony
Blake Griffin
PF Shelden Williams
DeAndre Jordan
C Nene

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

Back in early November, the Clippers got their first win of the season in impressive fashion over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Their next game was on the road in Denver, where they squandered an opportunity to get a road win against a quality opponent by missing a bunch of free throws and three pointers and losing to the Nuggets by seven after leading the entire first half. Now here it is early December, and the Clippers are coming off a huge home win, heading to Denver with a little momentum. Will the outcome be different this time? It may depend in part of Baron Davis' (erstwhile?) sore knee. Baron played half the game Wednesday, and was a difference maker for the Clippers, creating easy shots for his teammates while racking up 10 assists. If his knee feels OK after that work out and he can play at that level in Denver, it will be a big boost to the Clippers' chances. In addition to Davis, Chris Kaman told Dain Blanton during the pre-game show on Wednesday that he thought he might be back for this game. If he is, the Clippers would be something like full strength for the first time in over a month, which is a long time when you consider that the season is barely over a month old. Regardless of what happens with Davis and Kaman, they'll also of course have Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon, and that ain't half bad. Griffin was recently named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for November, and really, that doesn't begin to tell the story. He's likely looking at a Player of the Week award any minute now, and that's for all players, not just the first year guys. No one in the NBA (not even Kevin Love) has played better over the last two weeks. Eric Gordon has been quieter, but more consistent. In 16 out of his 17 games this season, he's scored at least 19 points, and he's averaging a bit over 24, the seventh best scoring average in the league. If Davis and Kaman indeed return to the lineup, the Clippers suddenly get a lot deeper, which may help them to avoid some scoring droughts that have occurred when the second unit is on the floor.

The Antagonist:

The Nuggets are a more than respectable 11-6, but they seem vulnerable. They've won five straight, but four of them were at home, and only one opponent has a winning record. Of course, this game is at home against the team with the worst record in the NBA, so it would fall into the same less than impressive category should the Nuggets win as expected, but you get my point. To their credit, the Nuggets seem to be able to win despite injuries and other setbacks. They've been missing Kenyon Martin all season and Chris Andersen until recently; Carmelo Anthony has missed large chunks of their last two games (one for the flu, once because he was ejected). But they still manage to win. This is all the more surprising when you consider that their other marquee player, Chauncey Billups, is having his worst season in years, and may be starting to show his age (he's decidedly not young for a point guard at 34). This team may be the best evidence in years for the position that coaches DO matter. When George Karl was forced from the sideline at the end of last season, they had a definitive drop off. Now that he's back, they find a way to win.

The Subplots

  • Who's in, who's out? I haven't heard anything on how Baron is feeling after playing a pretty active 24 minutes on Wednesday. As for Kaman, Lisa Dillman tweeted that he "hopes he can play a few mins in DEN."
  • Blake's Rampage. Blake is clearly not going to average his current productivity for a season, but let's put a little additional context around his recent outburst. He's averaged 30 points, 14 rebounds and almost 5 assists over the past 6 games. The only players in NBA HISTORY to average 30/14/4 for a season are Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Elgin Baylor. The most recent player to average 30/13 was Moses Malone during his second MVP season in 81-82. So yeah, it's pretty good.
  • 8, not 18. The Spurs had beaten the Clippers 18 consecutive games before Wednesday night. For their part, the Nuggets have won eight straight against the Clippers in Denver. The Clippers have broken two long streaks already this season of course.
  • First meeting. In the first meeting, the Clippers were missing Davis and Randy Foye, while the Nuggets were missing Nene in addition to Martin and Andersen. So the Nuggets will be stronger on their front line with Nene and Andersen back, while the Clippers will be weaker - even if Chris Kaman does play, he'll no doubt be limited in minutes. Then again, Kaman shot 5 for 18 in the first meeting, so having him available was hardly a major bonus. Carmelo was unstoppable last time, scoring 30 points on 14 for 20 shooting. It was his best shooting night of the season by a mile, so one presumes (hopes?) he won't do that again.
  • Defending Anthony. With the vets slowly returning to health, it will be interesting to see what Vinny Del Negro does with the lineups and rotations. Baron and Kaman will eventually regain their starting spots no doubt, and the changing makeup of the team might dictate that Ryan Gomes returns to the starting small forward spot ahead of Al-Farouq Aminu. Regardless of what happens in the long term, VDN might opt for Gomes tonight. He's a better defender than AFA, and stronger so better able to match up with Carmelo. Not that Gomes had much impact on defense last month, but that may have been one of those games where Carmelo just couldn't miss. He was making ridiculous shots. At any rate, don't be surprised if Gomes is in there to start tonight, and even if AFA gets the nod, VDN will not wait long to make the change.
  • J.R. Smith. I really don't know what I would do if I were a Nuggets fan/blogger. Having J.R. Smith on my team might make my head explode. For three consecutive games in the middle of November, Smith logged a total of one minute, including two DNP-CDs. He was in George Karl's doghouse, which has an entire wing named after Smith. Then, two games ago while Carmelo was sick, Smith scored a season-high 30 in leading the Nuggets over the Suns, his twelfth career 30 point game. Wednesday night he grabbed 10 rebounds, which tied a career high. The guy has a world of talent. I kind of hope that he's back in the doghouse by game time, because I don't want to face him.
  • Arron Afflalo. Everybody has been raving about how great Arron Afflalo has been for the Nuggets this season, but you know what? He's basically just getting more minutes. Oh, he's doing well with the minutes, and shooting better (50%) than his career average (45%). But his per 36 scoring is only up a point, from 11.7 to 12.7. He actually had a bigger per minute scoring increase last year. The main difference in Afflalo is that he's playing a lot more.
  • Billups. Chauncey Billups is shooting less than 37% from the field and has a PER below 15 for the first time since he was in Minnesota playing two guard and backing up Anthony Peeler, a decade ago. His per minute scoring, assists and rebounds are all down, while his turnovers are up. His stats show all the signs of a guy who has lost a step or more. Although you don't really want to get into a track meet with the Nuggets, I'd love to see Eric Bledsoe test him tonight.
  • Point guard similarities. The Clippers and Nuggets have some interesting similarities in their point guard situation. Both have a muscular veteran making a ton of money, and a young, undersized blur as the future of the position. When Bledsoe and Ty Lawson matchup with each other tonight, it should be fun watching them push the ball at each other. And Billups and Baron have had some good battles over the years. Interestingly, in 22 career head-to-head meetings, Billups and Davis have averaged 13.7 points per game against each other. They've each scored exactly 301 points in their career head to head games. Spooky.
  • Denver's Situation. It's not a good situation in Denver right now. Obviously there are rumors surrounding Carmelo, and although he has never said anything officially, apparently his people have let it be known that he has no intention of re-signing in Denver when his current contract is up this summer. So both parties have incentive to get a deal done before the trade deadline in February - Carmelo so that he gets a new contract under the current CBA, and the Nuggets so that they don't lose him for nothing in return. However, it goes beyond Carmelo. The entire starting lineup of the Nuggets and sixth man Smith could all be free agents this summer (Anthony and Nene have player options, though Anthony is certain not to exercise his, and they have a team option on Billups).
  • Undefeated in December. OK, it's only one game old, but how about a streak? The Spurs, with an 18 game winning streak, had to be as unlikely a win as any this month, so why not a win in Denver.
  • Superstar for one game: Gary Forbes.
  • Famous Quotation:

    Man is not merely the sum of his masks. Behind the shifting face of personality is a hard nugget of self, a genetic gift.... The self is malleable but elastic, snapping back to its original shape like a rubber band. Mental illness is no myth, as some have claimed. It is a disturbance in our sense of possession of a stable inner self that survives its personae.

    Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: The Cancelled Preface
  • Get the Nuggets perspective at Denver Stiffs.