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Clippers vs. Denver - Game Preview

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2011/2012 NBA Regular Season

February 22nd, 2012, 7:30 PM
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Andre Miller
Randy Foye SG Arron Afflalo
Ryan Gomes
Caron Butler
SF Corey Brewer
Blake Griffin
PF Kenneth Faried
DeAndre Jordan
C Timofey Mozgov

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have a lot of reasons to want to win this game. They want to end a two game losing streak. They want to avenge an earlier loss to the Nuggets, their worst home loss of the season. They want to maintain their Pacific Division lead over the Lakers, who are suddenly only a game back. And they want to head into the All Star break on a winning note -- they certainly don't want to head into the break on their longest losing streak of the season. What's strange is that although they've lost two straight, it's not like the team has played badly. They've played well enough to win the last two games, but gave the game away against San Antonio, and then failed to execute down the stretch against Golden State. Hopefully the team can put together four solid quarters of basketball, and avoid major lapses, and put away a depleted and struggling Nuggets team.

The Antagonist:

When Denver met the Clippers for the first time this season, the Nuggets were 14-5, in second place in the Western Conference. Beginning with a loss to LA, the Nuggets have won just 4 of their last 14 games. Of course, one of those was a decisive win over the Clippers in LA. The Nuggets may have been overachieving a bit early in the season, but their real problem of late is that they're just beat up. Leading scorer Danilo Gallinari broke a bone in his ankle and has missed the last eight games and will be out until some time after the All Star break. Nene has missed the last five games with a strained calf, and while he could conceivably play against the Clippers, it seems more likely that he'll rest through the break and try to get completely healthy. Ditto for Rudy Fernandez and his sore back, and Ty Lawson, who turned an ankle in Denver's OT win over Minnesota Monday night. But even with all those injuries, the Nuggets managed to take Oklahoma City to overtime before losing over the weekend, so the Clippers had best not take this team lightly. Remember, this is the 'non-star' team, so while losing starters like Gallinari and Nene is certainly a big loss, the Nuggets are deep and have players who can step in and pick up the scoring load.

The Subplots

  • [Note by Steve Perrin, 02/22/12 1:10 PM PST ] My bad. The first version of this preview had Ryan Gomes as the starting small forward, and Denver's record at 14-7. Both errors were leftovers from the preview of the last game, cut-and-pasted to create this one. Just the work of a tired blogger. Thanks to those in the comments who corrected me.
  • Nuggets Q&A. In advance of the game, I asked Nate Timmons of the SBNation Nuggets blog Denver Stiffs a few questions.
  • Key Nuggets Metrics:
    Pace: 95.3 (1st of 30 NBA teams)
    Off Rtg: 106.9 (6th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 103.8 (17th of 30)
    The Nuggets play at the fastest pace in the league. They may slow down a bit if Miller is playing the point instead of Lawson, but the Clippers will have to really focus on transition defense.
  • Key Clipper Metrics:
    Pace: 89.8 (23rd of 30 NBA teams)
    Off Rtg: 107.7 (4th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 105.0 (22nd of 30)
  • Team ball. The Clippers have two starters in the All Star game this weekend. Counting Chauncey Billups, the Clippers now have six of current or former All Stars since the addition of Kenyon Martin, the highest number of All Stars in the league. The Nuggets have no one on their roster whose ever made an All Star team. George Karl and the Nuggets are bucking an NBA trend to build around a single star or preferably a group of stars, a trend that they were heavily invested in when Carmelo Anthony was in Denver. It's a refreshing approach, but it's far from certain that it will go anywhere in the NBA playoffs, when it becomes difficult to get a crucial score without that transcendent player to give the ball to.
  • Nuggets hot start. Nate makes a good point in the Q&A that I want to highlight here. The Nuggets started the season 14-5, which felt like overachieving. But four Nuggets rotation players had been playing professionally in Europe during the lockout -- Lawson, Mozgov, Gallinari and Kosta Koufos -- and those guys might simply have been better prepared for game action early in the season.
  • Mozgov and Miller - Clipper enemies. Early in the second half of the last meeting, while the game was still close, Timofey Mozgov delivered a hard foul as Blake Griffin was attempting a dunk, knocking Griffin to the ground. It turns out, Andre Miller had told his teammates to put Griffin on his butt the next time he tried to dunk. In a court of law, they call that premeditation. As if Clippers fans needed another reason to dislike Mozgov (whose hard foul injured Eric Gordon last season) or Miller (already despised for obvious reasons).
  • Paul inconsistent. Over the last three games, Chris Paul has twice gone three quarters without doing anything, only to come alive in the fourth quarter, and once had a huge first half, only to disappear in the second half. Getting a consistent game that spans both halves from the usually reliable Paul would be nice.
  • Karl's rotation. As he's lost starters, rather than slide his top reserves into the starting lineup, George Karl has preferred to reach deep into his depth chart for starters, leaving his bench relatively in tact. So rather than start Al Harrington, the team's third leading scorer and the highest scoring non-injured Nugget, Karl has left Al on the bench and started rookie Kenneth Faried instead. With Lawson hurt, he may decide to start another rookie, Julyan Stone, and continue to bring Andre Miller off the bench as well.
  • Miller. The Clippers small backcourt hasn't hurt them as much as one might have suspected it would. Part of that is because even when guards have a significant height advantage, few of them have ever develop enough of a post game to exploit the advantage behind getting a slightly better look at their jump shots. The same is not true of Andre Miller. Miller has always been a great post up guard, and he could cause major issues for either Chris Paul or Mo Williams.
  • Denver defending Griffin. Unless Nene makes a surprise appearance, it's hard to imagine how the Nuggets will be able to defend Griffin. Faried is a rookie, and honestly I don't know much about him (he went to Morehead St.). I know he's a great athlete, but at 6'8" 230, he's giving away some size to Griffin. Mozgov isn't nearly quick enough to guard him, though we know he can foul him and end up on his poster. Al Harrington is pretty good at "pulling the chair" but that is about the extent of his tools for defending Griffin. Blake has lots of incentive against the Nuggets after what happened last game, and he will also have the opportunity to have a big game.
  • All Star break. The Clippers don't have any reason to be conserving energy tonight. Griffin and Paul will be busy this weekend, but it's not like the All Star Game (and the Rising Stars game in Griffin's case) is that physically taxing. The other Clippers will all have some time off, so they should be prepared to go all out for this win in order to go into the break on a good note.
  • All Star Starters. The All Star starters will be announced on TNT at 4 PM today. When they are, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will be among the ten names announced. It's hard to imagine a world in which the Clippers have not one but two All Star starters, but we're about to enter that world, and we could be in it for many years to come. The timing of the announcement serves to illustrate the contrast in these two teams even more -- the Nuggets are winning games without a single player who's ever made an All Star team, and it's highly unlikely that any of them will make it this season.
  • Former Nuggets. Kenyon Martin will be facing many of his old teammates tonight. Reggie Evans was once a Nugget as well, though only Nene is still around from the season Evans spent in Denver.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:


    In Scotland, a nugget means "idiot" in it's purest term. You can use nugget in both an offensive and friendly context.

    Aw, dinnae be a nugget man, lets gan get some drink

  • Get the Nuggets perspective at Denver Stiffs.