The Back Story (The Clippers lead the season series 1-0):
|12/21/13||Los Angeles||Clippers 112, Nuggets 91||Recap||Box|
The Big Picture:
The Clippers continue to win the games they're supposed to win, even without Chris Paul. Aside from a loss in Charlotte where they went ice cold from the perimeter, the Clippers have only lost games against top level teams when they were on the road on a back-to-back -- essentially schedule losses. Tonight in Denver looked a lot tougher when the schedule was first released, but with the Nuggets missing several key players, I'm going to put this one in the "should win" category. They still need to show up and play well, not overlook this team despite a meeting with the Miami Heat looming on Wednesday. Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and Darren Collison have all been playing their best basketball of the season since Paul's injury, and even if one or two of those guys has an off-night, the others seem to be able to carry the load. With the addition of a surprisingly spry and productive Hedo Turkoglu to the roster, even the second unit looks better now. Chris Paul is going to be back any day now -- quite possibly this week -- and then we'll see if the Clippers can put everything together and take their performance to another level.
The 2014 Nuggets remind me a bit of the 2010 Clippers; you'll recall that the Clippers started that season without Blake Griffin, but thought they'd get him back for most of his rookie season. They managed to hang around .500 for a couple months, but when Griffin needed season-ending surgery, it became too much and the wheels came off the season. Danilo Gallinari isn't as psychologically important to the Nuggets as the first overall pick was to that Clippers team, but other than that, the situation is similar. Gallinari tore his ACL last season and the Nuggets knew they'd start this season without him, but assumed he'd be back. Then about two weeks ago, they had to redo the surgery, and Gallo is gone for the year. To add insult (and injury) to injury, several other key Nuggets have been out most of the season, and Nate Robinson tore his own ACL last week. The Nuggets have lost five of their last seven, including two straight at home against Eastern Conference teams. Leading scorer Ty Lawson is nursing a sore shoulder and is a game time decision for this one. If he can't go, the Nuggets are in big trouble. Even if he returns, they're going to need to hope they catch the Clippers on an off night -- which is entirely possible given the fatigue factor of 11 games in 18 days.
- Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers have been on a roll offensively and have moved up to third in the league in offensive efficiency, behind only the Heat and the Blazers; however, the defense has taken a step back in recent weeks, though it remains eighth best in the league. The Nuggets are fairly average on both sides of the ball.
- 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.
- What altitude? The Nuggets have consistently had a great home record over the years, owing in large part to their location some five thousand feet above sea level. Denver has always played at a fast pace, and regular season visitors, with little time to acclimate to the thinner air, have trouble keeping up. This season the Nuggets are 12-11 at home, 10-12 on the road -- the least significant home court advantage in the Western Conference. There's really no explanation for that. It makes no logical sense and flies in the face of several decades of Denver basketball.
- The Andre Miller saga. Andre Miller has been an NBA iron man his entire career. He had a streak of 632 straight games ended in 2010 when he was suspended for his blind side tackle on Blake Griffin in a game between the Clippers and Miller's Blazers. At the beginning of the new year, Miller got a DNP-CD from head coach Brian Shaw ending a new streak of 239 straight. Miller confronted Shaw about it, and hasn't been seen in an NBA game since -- the Nuggets have been trying to trade him, and he'll certainly be moved before the trade deadline. Miller's benching leaves the Clippers DeAndre Jordan as the reigning NBA ironman.
- Chris Paul's return. Chris Paul is apparently getting very close to returning to action after a month away with a separated shoulder. He won't play in Denver tonight, which is about all that is certain at this point. The Clippers have four more games before the All Star break after tonight. Paul has a stated goal of playing in the ASG in his original NBA home of New Orleans, and he has to return to action before the game in order to do that, so he will almost certainly be back for the Portland game on in nine days on the 12th. One rumor says he is targeting the Toronto game this Friday; another has him thinking about playing against Miami on Wednesday. Knowing Paul's competitive nature, I have no doubt that he'd love to play against the defending champion Heat, to make his triumphant return in an important game on national TV. One only hopes that he's being smart and not jeopardizing his health for the rest of the season to try to rush back a bit early now.
- The Machine. In the meantime, the Clippers are signing former Laker Sasha Vujacic to a 10 day contract. Doc Rivers has been obsessed with shooting since he arrived in L.A. but even given that, this one seems strange. Even with Hedo Turkoglu playing well, the Clippers are much thinner in the front court than on the wings. It's just a 10 day deal, so no bridges burned yet, but there does not appear to be any long term advantage in signing Sasha, unless Doc has a trade in the works.
- Long, winding road. The Clippers had their seven game Grammy road trip in January. But even when they returned to L.A. to face the Wizards last Wednesday, the crazy travel didn't stop. After the Wizards in L.A. they played the Warriors in Oakland, then the Jazz back in L.A., and now the Nuggets in Denver. That's 11 games in 18 days with travel before and after every one of them. They've come through with flying colors so far -- and they have two full weeks in L.A. waiting for them on the other side of this one. (Except for Griffin and Paul who will head to New Orleans for the All Star Game during that stretch.)
- Home heavy from here. The Clippers have already played more road games than any team in the NBA (27). After tonight, they will be more than two-thirds of the way through their road schedule, 28 down and 13 to go. With 13 road games and 18 home games remaining after tonight, and the best home record in the Western Conference, the Clippers will be well-positioned to make a run over the 10 weeks of the season.
- New team. If you take last season's Nuggets team that won 57 games and sort the roster by minutes played, out of their top eight players from last season only Kenneth Faried is certain to play tonight. Iguodala, Koufos and Brewer are on other teams, Gallinari and McGee have major injuries, Andre Miller is persona non grata and Ty Lawson is a game time decision with a sore shoulder. It's one thing to try to remake a roster -- it's another to do that and then suffer a rash of injuries. The Nuggets have done well to hang around .500 this season.
- If Lawson's out. Ty Lawson is a game time decision, Nate Robinson is out for the season with an ACL injury, and Andre Miller has apparently played his last game with the Nuggets. That is the three point guards on the Denver roster. On Saturday that forced Randy Foye to be the starting point guard with second year French player Evan Fournier starting at shooting guard. Jordan Hamilton was the only player resembling a guard coming off the bench.
- Turkoglu. It's still very early in the process, but the initial results with Hedo Turkoglu playing the four with the second unit have been very good. Put a small sample size alert next to this, but he's averaging 8.8 rebounds per 36 minutes -- which is third best on the team and respectable even for a four. (It's also far above his career average, so it's probably not sustainable, though this is the first time he's ever played exclusively at the four.) We knew he had an unusually good feel for the game for a player his size, but I can't imagine that anyone thought he could step onto an NBA court after almost a year away and look as comfortable as he has. He's been an immediate upgrade to the Clippers big man reserve corps, and he really should continue to get better as he rounds into NBA game shape and continues to rediscover his skill set. Believe it or not, he's just below his career effective field goal percentage.
- Randy Foye. Among the decidedly lukewarm free agent signings for the Nuggets this summer was former Clipper Randy Foye, who has been their starting shooting guard by default and is playing emergency point guard for them now. 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 -- he's up to a lukewarm 41% in Denver. He does take a lot of threes, which drags down his percentage, but still -- 41% 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 17.9 points per game to lead the Nuggets. After that, there are five Nuggets averaging between nine and 14 points per game. It's not a very traditional formula for success in the NBA. If Lawson is out, the Nuggets will have difficulty finding enough offense to win this one.
- 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 XXI (21)
So is it not with me as with that Muse
Stirr'd by a painted beauty to his verse,
Who heaven itself for ornament doth use
And every fair with his fair doth rehearse
Making a couplement of proud compare,
With sun and moon, with earth and sea's rich gems,
With April's first-born flowers, and all things rare
That heaven's air in this huge rondure hems.
O' let me, true in love, but truly write,
And then believe me, my love is as fair
As any mother's child, though not so bright
As those gold candles fix'd in heaven's air:
. Let them say more than like of hearsay well;
. I will not praise that purpose not to sell.