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Clippers-Nuggets preview: Attitude at altitude

If the Clippers win tonight, they'll have the longest winning streak in the NBA this season at 12 games, but it won't be easy playing in Denver on a back-to-back.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
2013/2014 NBA Regular Season

March 17th, 2014, 7:30 PM
Pepsi Center
ESPN, Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
19-9 East 14-14
29-11 West 15-23
29-5 Home 16-16
19-15 Road 13-21
24-14 .500+ 15-22
24-6 .500- 14-15
10-0 L10 4-6
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Ty Lawson
Willie Green SG Randy Foye
Matt Barnes SF Wilson Chandler
Blake Griffin PF Kenneth Faried
DeAndre Jordan C Timofey Mozgov
Advanced Stats
98.21 (7th of 30) Pace 100.18 (3rd of 30)
109.3 (2nd of 30) ORtg 103.0 (17th of 30)
101.4 (8th of 30) DRtg 105.1 (21st of 30)
J.J. Redick (bulging disc) out
Nate Robinson (ACL surgery) out
Jamal Crawford (strained calf) doubtful
Danilo Gallinari (knee surgery) out
Darren Collison (illness) GTD
JaVale McGee (broken leg) out

The Back Story (The Clippers lead the season series 1-0):

Date Venue Final

12/21/13 Los Angeles Clippers 112, Nuggets 91 Recap Box
02/03/14 Denver Nuggets 116, Clippers 115 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have a lot of things working against them as they head into their game in Denver tonight. For one thing, they played last night in LA, not a very easy back-to-back. For another, they're playing at altitude. And they're playing the team that ended their 17 game winning streak last season as they try to extend an 11 game winning streak. As if that all weren't enough, they could very well be without their first (J.J. Redick), second (Jamal Crawford) and/or third (Darren Collison) choices at shooting guard. But they have some things in their favor as well. First of all, they're pretty freaking good. In addition, they lost a heartbreaker in this building six weeks ago, and they'll have LOTS of motivation to have a different outcome tonight. The Clippers don't play again until Saturday, a rare four days off between games any time of the season, but almost unheard of in March, so they will have plenty of time to recover after this game. With Oklahoma City slumping, the Clippers are just a game out of second place in the west as we head into this game -- they could conceivably be tied with the Thunder (though technically still a game back in the loss column and a few percentages points behind) by the end of the night. Who would have thought that possible a couple of weeks ago?

The Antagonist:

The Nuggets aren't a bad team, but they're not nearly good enough to overcome all of the injuries they've suffered. They've been without arguably their best player all season, and their starting center was injured in the fifth game. They had already lost a couple of key player from last season's outstanding team, and basically, they just don't have the horses this season. New head coach Brian Shaw will probably get some of the blame for the Nuggets missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade, but the team has probably overachieved, all things considered. I was kind of hoping that the team would have given up by the time this game rolled around so that the Clippers could count on a demoralized opponent, and indeed the Nuggets lost 11 of 12 shortly after beating the Clippers at the buzzer back in early February. But their win in Miami Friday shows that this is a still a very dangerous team when they get up for a game, and one presumes they'll be up to try to end the longest current winning streak in the league.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers are still eighth in defensive efficiency, but their rating continues to improve and they are now just a could of tenths away from sixth in the league. They've been playing the best sustained defense of the season in the last couple of weeks. The Nuggets play at the fastest pace in the league, which doesn't bode well for them since the Clippers are probably at their best when they are running.
  • Red or Blue? The Clippers are 8-1 the last nine times they've worn blue on the road (eight times in the royal blue road alternates, once in the baby blue pajaniforms). In their last road game, Friday in Utah, they wore red, but they had to because the Jazz were in green and their blues would have been too close. The last time the Clippers were in Denver, they wore their reds and Randy Foye broke their hearts with a game winning three at the buzzer. So what do you think they'll wear?
  • The standings. It wasn't that long ago that the Clippers were in fifth place in the Western Conference. Now they are in third, three games ahead of the Rockets and four and a half games ahead of the plummeting Blazers. And after making up more than five games against them since they beat them three weeks ago, the Clippers are just a game back of the Thunder (two in the loss column). Oklahoma City plays in Chicago tonight, in the first game of the ESPN double header as it happens. Fans watching ESPN could see the Clippers pull into a virtual tie with the Thunder, mere percentage points out of second in the west.
  • Stepping up. It's a cliche, but the Clippers have indeed been getting contributions from unlikely sources as they continue to play without some key guys. Reggie Bullock had a career high 14 in a career high 26 minutes as the backup shooting guard Sunday night. Danny Granger has provided Jamal Crawford-like instant offense in a couple of games. And Willie Green has been his usual steady self in stepping into the starting lineup once again. Griffin has been a rock, Paul is Paul and Jordan is reliable for rebounding and defense -- but the team has been getting contributions from up and down the roster.
  • A dozen to fourteen. The Nuggets aren't terrible, this game is a back to back, and playing at altitude is always tough. But after this game, the Clippers have two home games against two of the worst teams in the NBA, the Pistons and the Bucks. If they can bring the winning streak back to LA in tact, it should go on for a bit more at least.
  • 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 just 16-16 at home. 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. Miller began this, his 15th NBA season, in Denver, but at the beginning of the new year, he got a DNP-CD from head coach Brian Shaw ending a new streak of 239 straight. Miller confronted Shaw about it, and never played for the Nuggets again. He was traded to the Wizards at the deadline for Jan Vesely as part of a three team deal. The Clippers DeAndre Jordan is now the reigning NBA ironman.
  • 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 and Ty Lawson are still on the team and healthy. Iguodala, Koufos, Brewer and now Miller are all gone, Gallinari and McGee have major injuries. 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 did well to hang around .500 for awhile, but I think they kind of gave up when they realized that Gallinari wasn't coming back this season.
  • 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. 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. His shooting percentage usually hovers right around 40%, either a little below or a little above -- he's up to a lukewarm .406 in Denver. He does take a lot of threes, which drags down his percentage, but still. The other signings for the Nuggets this summer were J.J. Hickson and Nate Robinson (who is now out for the season). Color me underwhelmed. Of course, Foye hit the miracle three at the buzzer in the last meeting to defeat the Clippers.
  • Ty and the rest. Lawson averages 18 points per game to lead the Nuggets. After that, there are five Nuggets averaging between 10 and 14 points per game. It's not a very traditional formula for success in the NBA.
  • 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 played two seasons with the Clippers.
  • 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.