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Los Angeles Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season

Staples Center
January 5th, 2011, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis
PG Chauncey Billups
Eric Gordon SG Arron Afflalo
Ryan Gomes
SF Carmelo Anthony
Blake Griffin
PF Kenyon Martin
DeAndre Jordan
C Nene

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

If it's the first week of a new month, then the Clippers must be playing the Nuggets. This is the third meeting of the season between the teams, following game on November 3rd and December 5th. Both of those games were in Denver, and if the home court means anything, you have to like the Clippers chances in this one. Both games in Denver were competitive, with the Clippers within one possession in the final minute of the last game. Oh, and if the home crowd has any impact on the officiating, that could help a little also, if you recall the free throw disparity in the last game. The Clippers will need Eric Gordon to bounce back from his worst game of the season in order to have a chance. Against the Hawks on Sunday he scored just 10 points on 3 of 14 shooting. He's been good but not great in the first two meetings with the Nuggets, scoring 21 and 24 points. We can expect Blake Griffin to do his part, as he has in each of the last 21 games in which he produced double doubles. But someone else besides Griffin and Gordon is going to have to step up. In general, there are several Clippers who I feel suffer from being too passive on offense. In particular, both Ryan Gomes and Eric Bledsoe need to take open shots when they have them.

The Antagonist:

The Nuggets finally got their starting lineup in place a couple of games ago. Kenyon Martin missed the first 26 games of the season after off-season knee surgery, and returned just as Carmelo Anthony was missing games upon his sister's death. If Al Harrington plays tonight (he's questionable) it will be the first time this season that the Nuggets will have their top nine players available. Yet despite missed games by Martin, Chris Andersen, Chauncey Billups, and Carmelo, not to mention the distraction of Carmelo trade demands (only 6 weeks to the trade deadline!), the Nuggets are still 20-13. The Nuggets still like to score the ball - they play at the third highest pace in the league, and have the fourth best offensive efficiency. They are the fifth best three point shooting team in the league, percentage wise. The good news for the Clippers is that the Nuggets have never been nearly as good at sea level as they are at home at altitude. Their 15-3 home record is tied for third best in the NBA, but they're only 5-10 on the road. To illustrate how many ways the Nuggets can beat you, they have six players averaging double figures this season, led by Carmelo at 24 points per game. The Clippers only have two players averaging double figures.

The Subplots

  • Beating good teams. Early in the season, the Clippers seemed only capable of beating good teams. Three of the first four wins came against teams with winning records. However, since they beat the Spurs on December 1, the results have been more like you might expect - they're 1-6 against teams with winning records, 5-3 against teams with losing records. Tonight would be a good night to figure out how to beat a good team again.
  • Scheduling quirk. In a scheduling quirk, the Nuggets and Clippers played their last two meetings of last season and their first two meetings of this season in Denver, so that it has been four games since the last time the teams met in LA. Denver has a four game winning streak going, but the Clippers did win the last meeting in Staples Center, way back in November 2009.
  • Pass first point guard. I keep seeing Baron Davis referred to as a shoot first point guard, and chastised for shooting too much. So I asked myself, how do you measure this? The obvious way would be to compare the number of shots taken to the number of assists. Only one player in the NBA has more assists than shots this season - that's Jason Kidd. Eight have a ratio less than 1.5 shots to each assist. Those eight are Kidd, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Andre Miller, Kyle Lowry, Jose Calderon and Baron. I certainly wish that Baron were making a higher percentage this season than he is, and in particular it would be nice if he could make at least 3 in 10 three pointers, but the statistics indicate that he has indeed been a pass first point guard this season.
  • Billups and Davis, compare and contrast. It's interesting to look at the difference between Chauncey Billups and Baron Davis this season. Using the shots to assists ratio above, Billups has a 289 shots to 147 assists, a ratio of almost 2-to-1. Baron has taken 190 shots and handed out 130 assists, a ratio of less than 1.5-to-1. Billups is shooting 41.5% on the season, and Baron is shooting 38.9%. But where Baron is killing the Clippers and Billups is helping the Nuggets is on three point shooting. Billups is actually making a higher percentage of his threes (42.4%) than he is making overall. Meanwhile, Baron has made only 11 of 58 threes, a frigid 19%. Baron is actually making over 50% of his 2 point field goal attempts since returning to the lineup on December 1. But when the ball winds up in his hands at the end of a shot clock, he's invariably going to hoist a three, and right now they're not going in.
  • Nene, All Star Center? There are so many problems with the All Star voting that it's hard to keep track of all of them. It starts with the ballot itself, which this year didn't include Paul Millsap, and listed Al Jefferson as a forward, even though he's played center basically the whole season for the Jazz. Then there's the fact that the general public isn't really qualified to select that All Star starters. Taken together, those problems have the West Conference Center vote with Yao Ming in first place, Andrew Bynum in second and Brendan Haywood in third. Yao has played five games this season for Houston and is out for the year, Bynum has played 10 games at 21 minutes per for the Lakers, and Haywood doesn't even start in Dallas. In reality, if you ignore Jefferson, Nene has been the best center in the Western Conference this season, and it hasn't been particularly close. He's leading the league in field goal percentage by a Brazilian mile, while also shooting a career high from the free throw line and scoring a career high 15 points per game. Fortunately for all of us, Yao will win the the vote, but won't take up a spot, leaving it up to the league to select a replacement. Nene may or may not get in that way - if they want a true center, he'd be the pick, but there are plenty of seven foot forwards like Tim Duncan and Pau Gasol who could be chosen as well.
  • DeAndre, playing ball. DeAndre Jordan has somewhat quietly been playing some very good ball for the Clippers lately. Coach Vinny Del Negro has rewarded him with 40 minutes in each of the last two games. DJ has blocked 13 shots in the last two games and he's working his way up the leader board among shot blockers - believe it or not, he's blocking almost as many shots per 36 minutes as Marcus Camby this season. He has also averaged 10 points and 9 rebounds over his past six games. I mentioned above that Nene is leading the league in field goal percentage, but that's only because DJ hasn't taken enough shots to qualify for the honor. Jordan is shooting over 68% on the season, and almost 72% since the beginning of December. He's made 15 of his last 17 field goal attempts. If he can figure out two things, he'll be a veritable force: he has to make free throws, and he has to stop getting caught for three second violations. To that end, tonight I launch the DJ in the Key watch - we'll monitor how many times he gets caught each game. I'm hoping that at least once this season he can go an entire game without getting whistled for a three second violation.
  • Inefficient 20 point scorer. Ziller at had an interesting piece about scoring efficiency this week. Based on True Shooting Percentage (and you well know that TSP is my favorite shooting efficiency measure), Carmelo is the least efficient of the league's 20 point per game scorers. Now, we probably shouldn't get too carried away with that information - among the 20 or so guys averaging 20 per, someone had to be the worst. But it is a bit surprising that it's Melo, given the frequency with which he gets to the free throw line (at least against the Clippers). It's worth noting on Ziller's chart that (a) the Clippers are represented by both Gordon and Griffin (aka BLAKE!) and (b) both of the G-Men have above average TSPs.
  • Free Throws. In the last meeting, the Nuggets shot 59 free throws to the Clippers 29. Let's hope that we don't have to watch a game with close to 90 free throws tonight, and that the Clippers get slightly more favorable calls.
  • Blake and Kenyon. One matchup to watch, especially where fouls are concerned, is Kenyon Martin defending Blake Griffin. KMart has never been afraid to give hard fouls, and teams have certainly shown a penchant for roughing up Griffin this season. It's somewhat to be expected - no one wants to be in his next poster, and as long as he's shooting under 60% from the line, there's not much disincentive to foul him. Add in the fact that he's going to power through a touch foul, and it's a formula for lots and lots of contact, something that Martin is more than comfortable delivering. I predict that it will get chippy between the two of them tonight, especially if the refs don't keep it reined in early.
  • Defending Anthony. The Clippers need Ryan Gomes to have a solid game defending Anthony. If Gomes is in the starting lineup for his defense, this is a chance for him to earn his keep.
  • 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 Eric Bledsoe and Ty Lawson matchup with each other tonight, it should be fun watching them push the ball at each other. As for Baron and Billups, this will be their 24th head to head meeting in their careers.
  • 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, 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).
  • Superstar for one game: Ty Lawson. After he threw in a half court buzzer beater last time, I have a feeling he has the Clippers number.
  • Famous Quotation:

    What is there that confers the noblest delight? What is that which swells a man's breast with pride above that which any other experience can bring to him? Discovery! To know that you are walking where none others have walked; that you are beholding what human eye has not seen before; that you are breathing a virgin atmosphere. To give birth to an idea, to discovery a great thought—an intellectual nugget, right under the dust of a field that many a brain-plough had gone over before. To find a new planet, to invent a new hinge, to find a way to make the lightnings carry your messages. To be the first—that is the idea.

    Mark Twain
  • Get the Nuggets perspective at Denver Stiffs.