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Clippers-Nuggets preview: Streaking into Christmas

The Clippers face the Nuggets in the nightcap of ABC and ESPN's Christmas Day NBA extravaganza. The Clippers can stay perfect in December and extend their winning streak to 14 with a win.

Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

December 25th, 2012, 7:30 PM
Prime Ticket, ESPN, KFWB 980 AM
Buy Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Ty Lawson
Willie Green SG Andre Iguodala
Caron Butler SF Danilo Gallinari
Blake Griffin PF Kenneth Faried
DeAndre Jordan C Kosta Koufos
Advanced Stats through games of Dec. 23
91.5 (18th of 30) Pace 93.9 (5th of 30)
110.1 (4th of 30) ORtg 107.9 (8th of 30)
99.7 (3rd of 30) DRtg 106.1 (20th of 30)
Chauncey Billups (ankle) out
Ty Lawson (ankle) probable
Grant Hill (knee) out
Wilson Chandler (hip) out
Trey Thompkins (knee) out
Julyan Stone (hip surgery) out

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The Clippers won three of four meetings with the Nuggets last season. The teams split two pre-season games as well.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are up to 13 straight wins, going for number 14 as a Christmas present to Clips Nation. The only times the Clippers have played poorly this season is when they've lacked focus or lacked energy. With the winning streak on the line, and with a national audience tuned in on the biggest TV day of the NBA's regular season, energy really should not be a problem. These teams met in the final regular season game for the Clippers, and with both coaches playing a more or less regular season like rotation, the Clippers won handily, for what that's worth.

The Antagonist:

When these teams met back on December 8th, the Suns were reeling, losing their fifth in a row to L.A. and eventually dropping six straight. They've made some shake ups in the rotations, and recently won four straight before losing last night in Portland. Michael Beasley has been benched in favor of Jared Dudley, and veteran Luis Scola is back in the starting lineup. The Suns recently beat the Grizzlies in Phoenix, so they are fully capable of beating good teams, and they always seem to play their best against the Clippers. The Suns have six players averaging double figures -- but no one averaging as much as 15. In a league driven by superstars, that's not a good thing.

Or, you know, something about the Nuggets.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers continue to be among the league leaders in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Their win over Phoenix Sunday night helped the defensive numbers a lot.
  • Best record? Oklahoma City leads the Clippers by just a half game as kids are opening their presents Christmas morning. But they play in Miami two games prior to the Clippers taking on the Nuggets. By the time the game tips in L.A. the Clippers could be tied for the best record in basketball if the Heat can take care of business at home. If that happens, the a Clipper win would give them the best record in the entire NBA.
  • Reigning player of the week. Clippers Chris Paul was chosen as the Western Conference's player of the week on Monday. Paul has been more assertive early in games lately and it seems to be paying dividends. He's shooting the lights out right now, especially from deep.
  • Transition defense. The Nuggets thrive on easy baskets. They run as much as any team in the league, they throw lob passes as much or more than the Lob City Clippers, and they will always prefer to attack the defense before it gets set. If the Clippers can limit the easy buckets make Denver play half court basketball it will be a very long night for them.
  • For real or not for real? The Nuggets are 15-13, which is a very respectable record considering that tonight's game will be their 20th on the road compared to just nine home games so far. But in those 19 road games, the team is just 7-12 -- the Clippers have more road wins in far fewer games (9-3 on the road). The Nuggets enjoy a decided home court advantage in the altitude in Denver, and no team in the league has so few losses (they're 8-1 at home). But they appear to be a mediocre road team, at least so far. They look like they'll make the playoffs, but they also look like first round fodder for a team like the Clippers as of right now. (As it happens, if the season had ended Monday, the Clippers and Nuggets would indeed meet in the first round.)
  • Depth. The Nuggets have a very deep team. In fact, their approach since trading away Carmelo Anthony has been to build a team that is very deep, but without any superstars. They can run ten players at their opponent without any appreciable dropoff from the first unit to the second unit. It's an interesting approach, but it has one problem against the Clippers -- L.A. is just as deep, but still have superstars they can call on: the best of both worlds. Denver's second unit is one of the only ones in the NBA that can hang with the Clippers' reserves, but in the end the benches are pretty evenly matched.
  • Balance. With their depth, the Nuggets have six players averaging double figures this season, but their leading scorer, Danilo Gallinari, is only averaging 15.6 points per game. As it happens, Gallinari is only fourth on the team in per minute scoring. McGee, Jordan Hamilton and surprisingly Corey Brewer are all scoring with more frequency than any of the Denver starters.
  • Jordan and McGee. DeAndre Jordan and JaVale McGee will probably always be linked in their NBA careers. In the 2008 draft, Jordan dropped like a stone from the lottery to the second round, while McGee came from nowhere to be picked 18th. They're both crazy long (McGee is one of the only players in the league longer than DJ) and very athletic for their size. They both are raw, though McGee has more of an offensive game than Jordan does. Through the first third of this, their fifth NBA season, they have similar numbers. Jordan plays more minutes -- McGee scores more. Jordan is a slightly better rebounder, and they both shoot a high percentage (though McGee's percentage is slightly better, which is a bit surprisingly considering that Jordan is always among the league leaders in field goal percentage).
  • Mozgov and Miller - Clipper enemies. Timofey Mozgov and Andre Miller are both linked closely to the Clippers in negative ways. Mozgov went on Blake's first huge NBA poster of course, but then got a measure of revenge when he leveled Griffin last season. Miller is just a bad man and seems to have something personal against the Clippers.
  • Bledsoe vs. Lawson. We may not get to see the matchup much given that Bledsoe will likely be playing against Miller and the second unit, but the battle between Ty Lawson and Eric Bledsoe would be great. In the first preseason game in Las Vegas against Denver, Bledsoe started for Paul and went completely nuts, scoring 25 points along with eight rebounds, six assists and five steals, but Lawson managed to hit the one that counted the most, the game winner as time expired.
  • Schedule turning tougher. Christmas Day against the Nuggets is no gimme, but at least the Clippers are home and rested. After this is starts getting pretty hectic. From this Thursday December 27 until Saturday January 5 the Clippers play seven games in 10 days, including one stretch of four games in five days. They have three sets of back to backs in that sequence, and all the teams are good (though happily not great).
  • National TV. At this point the Clippers are playing great in pretty much any circumstances, but there was a time earlier in the season when the team seemed noticeably more energetic during national television broadcasts. As part of the Christmas Day national TV lineup, if indeed there was anything to the impression that the Clippers got up for TV games, they should definitely be up for this one. ESPN folks were no doubt interviewing them all day yesterday, getting material for the broadcast. The Clippers tend to like to put on a show for the national audience, and when they put on a show, they bring lots of energy, and when the bring lots of energy, they almost always win.
  • Connections. Chauncey Billups was born and raised in Denver and has had two stints with the Nuggets, including as an All Star from 2008 through 2010. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro played for Nuggets coach George Karl in Milwaukee.
  • Get the Denver perspective at Denver Stiffs.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Nugget -- Cake (NSFW lyrics)

    heads of state who ride and wrangle,
    who look at your face from more than one angle,
    can cut you from their bloated budgets
    like sharpened knives through chicken mcNuggets.

    If you've been paying attention, you know that I used this song during pre-season. But "nuggets" is not an easy word to get into cool lyrics, so I feel justified in saying that pre-season doesn't count on the lyrics project. Besides, this gives me three Cake songs in a row, which is kind of cool.