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Clippers-Nuggets preview -- Still a struggle

The Clippers are playing better, but one certainly hopes that the team has not yet played its best ball of the season. They'll take their solid road record and stellar record against losing teams into Denver to face the Nuggets.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season

December 18th, 2014, 6:00 PM
Pepsi Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
8-3 East 5-5
10-4 West 5-10
10-3 Home 6-6
8-4 Road 4-9
15-1 .500+ 7-5
3-6 .500- 3-10
8-2 L10 3-7
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Ty Lawson
J.J. Redick SG Arron Afflalo
Matt Barnes SF Wilson Chandler
Blake Griffin PF Kenneth Faried
DeAndre Jordan C Timofey Mozgov
Advanced Stats
96.14 (12th of 30) Pace 98.66 (6th of 30)
110.5 (3rd of 30) ORtg 102.8 (18th of 30)
103.2 (15th of 30) DRtg 105.4 (21st of 30)
Spencer Hawes (knee) questionable
JaVale McGee (strained tibia) out

Randy Foye (ligament tear) out

The Back Story (The teams split the season series last year, 2-2):

Date Venue Final

12/21/13 Los Angeles Clippers 112, Nuggets 91 Recap Box
02/03/14 Denver Nuggets 116, Clippers 115 Recap Box
03/17/14 Denver Nuggets 110, Clippers 100 Recap Box
04/15/14 Los Angeles Clippers 117, Nuggets 105 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Clippers, despite their 18-7 record, don't really inspire a lot of confidence just yet. Even during their recent nine game winning streak there was the feeling that they were just winning the games they should have won. Since then, they lost two and struggled against an outmanned Pacers team in their last four. Hopefully there's another gear here that the Clippers will eventually find -- there was supposed to be at any rate. They are a near perfect 15-1 against teams with losing records, and Denver falls into that category, so hopefully they'll continue that dominance. But the Nuggets have always played the Clippers tough, especially in Denver, so you shouldn't expect anything to come easy tonight.

The Antagonist:

If the Clippers have been a little up and down this season the Nuggets have been down right bi-polar. Denver started by losing six of seven and everyone said they were a mess. Then they won eight of ten, and everyone thought they were OK again. Now they've lost seven of eight and they're a mess again. The Nuggets have talent, but in the ultra-loaded West, you can't suffer through long stretches of bad play and still make the playoffs. The Nuggets lost a tough one Wednesday, falling to Houston in an overtime thriller. Denver got Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari back from injury in that game, and their presence should provide a boost to the Nuggets, even though they're both having down seasons so far.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers are third in the league in offensive efficiency, despite opening the season in the doldrums for the first nine games. The offense will probably float up to first overall eventually, but the defense is right around league average, which is not good enough for a team with title aspirations. The Nuggets are below average on both sides of the ball.
  • Life without Hawes. Doc Rivers' preferred rotation would feature Spencer Hawes as the first big off the bench. That has not been an option lately, not since Hawes banged up his knee in Washington. Hawes is a big body and an effective floor stretcher. Big Baby Davis brings good energy and can hit a mid range jumper, but the Clippers will miss Hawes until he's back.
  • Tough Trip. The Clippers played at home on Wednesday, they play tonight in Denver, and they're home again tomorrow against the Bucks. That's right, it's a one day trip to Denver, which is not exactly next door. The NBA schedule always contains a few of these head scratchers, but it's hard to know who thought it was a good idea to fly the Clippers to the Rockies for one game and then fly them right back.
  • The dreaded 4 in 5. This game marks the first of four games in five nights for the Clippers. It's also in the middle of a string of eight games in 14 nights. Doc Rivers has expressed concerned about the wear and tear on his starters and has hinted that he might rest some of his big names (a la Gregg Popovich) during this busy stretch.
  • Faried. Kenneth Faried was one of the steals of the 2011 draft. Taken 22nd overall, he appeared to be on a trajectory towards stardom, including playing a major role on the Team USA squad that won a Gold Medal in the World Cup this summer. Many young players have seen a real boost from spending a summer with Coach K and Team USA -- Faried for some reason is having his worst season.
  • Gallinari. Danilo Gallinari was on his way to becoming a very good NBA player for the Nuggets a couple of seasons ago. He blew out his knee, missed all of last season, and has not come close to regaining his prior form. In fact, among players who have attempted at least 100 shots this season, Gallinari has the third worst field goal percentage at .328. Then again, C.J. Miles is fourth on that particular list, and he broke out in a big way with a 30 point night against the Clippers so don't be surprised if Gallo breaks out tonight. He has however been dealing with some knee soreness.
  • What happened in Denver? The Nuggets won 57 games two seasons ago with much the same roster. So what happened? First they fired George Karl, which was not a very good idea. They were also beset by injuries last season, which certainly didn't help matters. They've got most of their players back, but somehow the parts just don't fit together under Brian Shaw the way they did under Karl.
  • Hot seat? With the firing of Mike Malone in Sacramento, one wonders how much more time Shaw has. Unlike Malone, Shaw inherited a playoff team. Injuries were the biggest problem last season, but things are far from smooth in the Mile High City right now, and Shaw is the easiest scapegoat at this point. The "Shaw is on the hot seat" rumors were flying back in November during the 1-6 start -- they'll be picking up again any day now.
  • No room at the table. The Western Conference is brutally tough, and even when the Nuggets were on a nice hot streak, it was basically impossible to imagine them sneaking into the top eight of the conference. Of the eight teams that made the playoffs last season, the four through eight teams (Houston, Portland, Golden State, Memphis and Dallas) all seem to be as good or better, and the Spurs and Thunder and Clippers aren't going anywhere, despite the early season injury troubles in OKC. Bottom line -- the eight teams that made the postseason last year are almost certainly going to make it again this season. So for Phoenix and Sacramento and New Orleans and Denver -- you might be better than you were, but it still isn't good enough. Not in the West.
  • Connections. 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. Randy Foye (currently injured) played two seasons with the Clippers. Doc Rivers coached Nate Robinson one season in Denver. Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo formed the starting backcourt in Westwood for a couple of season when they were UCLA teammates.
  • Get the Denver perspective at Denver Stiffs.
  • Wikipedia entry: chicken nugget is a chicken product made from either meat slurry or chicken breasts cut to shape, breaded or battered, then deep-fried or bakedFast food restaurants typically fry their nuggets in vegetable oil, such as coconut oil.

    The chicken nugget was invented in the 1950s by Robert C. Baker, a food science professor at Cornell University, and published as unpatented academic work. Dr. Baker's innovations made it possible to form chicken nuggets in any shape. McDonald's recipe for Chicken McNuggets was created on commission from McDonald's by Tyson Foods in 1979 and the product was sold beginning in 1980.