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Clippers-Nuggets preview: Going for four in a row

The Clippers have been impressive in winning three straight games and will look to keep the streak alive with a win over the Nuggets in STAPLES Center tonight.

Ethan Miller
2013/2014 NBA Regular Season

December 21st, 2013, 7:30 PM
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Ty Lawson
Jamal Crawford SG Randy Foye
Jared Dudley SF Wilson Chandler
Blake Griffin PF Kenneth Faried
DeAndre Jordan C J.J. Hickson
Advanced Stats
97.68 (9th of 30) Pace 98.30 (7th of 30)
106.5 (4th of 30) ORtg 103.8 (13th of 30)
100.5 (8th of 30) DRtg 101.5 (11th of 30)
J.J. Redick (wrist) out
Danilo Gallinari (knee surgery) out
Reggie Bullock (sprained ankle) out
JaVale McGee (broken leg) out
Maalik Wayns (meniscus surgery) out

The Back Story:

-- 12/25/12 in Los Angeles | Clippers 112, Nuggets 100 | Recap | Box Score

-- 01/01/13 in Denver | Nuggets 92, Clippers 78 | Recap | Box Score

-- 03/07/13 in Denver | Nuggets 107, Clippers 92 | Recap | Box Score

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have won three straight games by double figures, the first time they've done that this season. They can equal their longest winning streak under Doc Rivers with a fourth win tonight, something they've done twice already this season. The team had looked confused and out of sorts after J.J. Redick was injured, but in the the last three games, since Rivers inserted Jamal Crawford into the starting lineup, things are suddenly looking sharp again. The Clippers managed a comfortable win over the Pelicans on Wednesday despite a sub-par performance from Chris Paul and second half foul trouble for Blake Griffin. Making shots makes a huge difference, and Jared Dudley in particular has started to do so. Dudley is 10-16 from beyond the three point line in the last three games, after making just 28-88 (.318) in the first 24 games.

The Antagonist:

You wouldn't think, looking at the Nuggets roster, that they would pose much threat to the Clippers. Then again, you would think they'd be in the playoff picture in the very tough Western Conference either, but there they are, 14-11 in the eighth spot currently. They don't exactly have a bunch of marquee wins -- they have a total of four victories over teams .500 or better, those being the Lakers (13-13), the Hawks (15-12) and the Mavs (15-11) twice. But they are taking care of business against the "lesser" teams. They had a tough one against Phoenix last night, as they entered the fourth quarter with a 10 point lead but wound up losing at home. They've now lost five of their last eight after winning seven in a row and it seems to me they really need to get Danilo Gallinari back -- they just don't have enough weapons in close games at this time. Ty Lawson is having an All Star year -- if Colorado were a little further east, that is. In the West he's got essentially no chance, because he has to compete with Chris Paul and Stephen Curry and Tony Parker and Damian Lillard and a whole slew of other great point guards. But Lawson is having his best season, averaging career highs of 18 points and eight assists. New head coach Brian Shaw actually has their defense ahead of their offense right now, which is not something we expect from the Nuggets, so it does seem to be a new era in Denver.

The Subplots

  • The Questionable Blogger. In advance of the Clippers' first meeting of the season with the new Nuggets (new coach, new starters, etc.) I asked some questions of Nate Timmons from Denver Stiffs, and he asked me some questions as well.
  • Comparison of key metrics. The Nuggets are slightly above league average in both offensive and defensive efficiency, with the defense slightly ahead of the offense. The Clippers are back up to fourth in offensive efficiency after three good performances, and have the highest rated defense in the league over the past four weeks.
  • Karl and Del Negro. George Karl led the Nuggets to 57 wins last season, their best record since joining the NBA as one of four ABA teams to make the leap in 1976. Vinny Del Negro led the Clippers to 56 wins, a franchise record for the Clippers. And they were each replaced for their efforts. That's a tough gig.
  • New team. So, I think most of you know that I tend to copy and paste old game previews to create new ones. It stands to reason that some of the bullet points from one game during a season, apply to the next game. And even from season to season, there are usually a few things that are still relevant, with an update of course. Guess what? Starting from the final meeting last season, I could not recycle a single bullet point for this game. Part of that is simply that I don't know a whole lot about this edition of the Nuggets -- I haven't watched them a lot. But it's also because five of their top nine players from last season are either gone or hurt.
  • The return of Barnes. Matt Barnes will return to the Clippers lineup tonight after missing a month with a torn retina. Barnes will wear goggles to protect his eye from further damage. The time off may have been useful to Barnes to get over the sundry injuries that had plagued him in the early part of the season, and he's been able to run the entire time he's been out, so hopefully he won't be too badly out of shape. It will take some time to get back into basketball shape and to get his timing, but the Clippers can certainly use his energy. Barnes and J.J. Redick are the most active players off the ball on the roster, and without them the offense has been very stagnant at times. Barnes is also one of the best perimeter defenders on the team.
  • Second unit. Whether it's the addition of Stephen Jackson or the chemistry mix since Crawford became a starter, the Clippers second unit has been a very positive factor in the past three games. It should be noted that it's not a full second unit at all -- there has been at least one starter if not two with them the vast majority of the time. But even with Paul and Griffin and Crawford resting, a unit that would seem to have very little hope of scoring, has held or extended leads. They actually began the 19-0 run that turned the Spurs game on Monday. Like last season's "Tribe Called Bench" they're doing it with defense and energy. It's not very pretty, but it's been effective. Barnes should slot into that group very well.
  • Small ball. Whether it's a function of the specific opponents or a broader trend, Rivers has played a smaller lineup the last few games, with Jackson getting most of the backup minutes at the four. Of course, Jackson's almost as big as Antawn Jamison, and a better defender even in the post, so it's barely a small ball lineup. With Barnes back, Rivers will have even more small ball options, and I would expect Antawn to continue to lose minutes. On Wednesday Jamison got his first DNP since making his season debut.
  • Randy Foye. Among the decidedly lukewarm free agent signings for the Nuggets this summer was former Clipper Randy Foye, who is their starting shooting guard by default. Foye always seems to wind up in the starting lineup wherever he goes -- but at the same time, he hardly seems like an NBA starter. He's a shooting guard who isn't that great a shooter, truth be told. He hasn't been above 40% from the field since before he joined the Clippers, and he's down to 37% this season. He does take a lot of threes, which drags down his percentage, but still -- 37% is not good. The other signings for the Nuggets this summer were J.J. Hickson and Nate Robinson. Color me underwhelmed.
  • Ty and the rest. Lawson averages 18 points per game to lead the Nuggets. After that, there are seven Nuggets averaging between eight and 12 points per game. It's not a very traditional formula for success in the NBA.
  • Connections. Andre Miller was a long ago Clipper, one of the least popular Clippers of all time. Randy Foye was a Clipper for two seasons. Timofey Mozgov appeared with Blake Griffin in one of the most famous dunks of all time, though he wishes that he hadn't. Gallinari went on another Griffin poster in the same game, while both Mozgov and Gallo were on the Knicks.
  • Get the Denver perspective at Denver Stiffs.
  • Shakespearean reference:

    Sonnet XVIII (18)

    Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
    Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
    Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
    And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
    Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
    And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
    And every fair from fair sometime declines,
    By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
    But thy eternal summer shall not fade
    Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
    Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
    When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
    . So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
    . So long lives this and this gives life to thee.