The Back Story (The Nuggets lead the season series 2-1):
|Clippers 112, Nuggets 91
|Nuggets 116, Clippers 115
|Nuggets 110, Clippers 100
The Big Picture:
The Clippers might actually prefer it otherwise, they might like to know where they are going to finish so they can get some rest and stop worrying about regular season wins, but with Oklahoma City's loss in New Orleans last night, L.A. still has a shot at the second seed in the Western Conference. They would need for the 58-win Thunder to lose at home to the 29 win Detroit Pistons, which doesn't seem very likely, but stranger things have happened. Of course they also need to win their own games, starting tonight against the Nuggets, but it's not as if the Clippers need extra incentive against Denver. The Clippers have not lost three games to any team in the NBA this season -- they are 0-2 against Indiana and Miami, 1-2 against San Antonio and Memphis, but they don't play any of those teams again. The Clippers haven't lost three games in a row this season (and won't in the regular season at least, a remarkable accomplishment in and of itself) -- and they haven't lost three to any opponent. They don't want to start now. Not to mention the fact that Denver's two wins -- one at the buzzer on a desperation three by Randy Foye and a second last month that ended the Clippers' 11-game winning streak -- were both particular bitter for the Clippers. So yeah, this is one that the team really wants to win, whether they admit it or not. They didn't play particularly well in either of the losses, owing in part to the altitude in Denver and the schedule -- but on two days rest at sea level, there will be no excuses. So they want to avenge the Denver losses, they are still chasing the two seed -- anything else? Oh yeah, a victory tonight sets a new franchise record for regular season wins.
The Nuggets have been missing key players all season, and they may be missing even more against the Clippers tonight. In addition to Danilo Gallinari, who's been out all year, and JaVale McGee, who was hurt early in the season, J.J. Hickson is now out and leading scorer Ty Lawson will probably miss this game as well. But the Nuggets have a habit of being pesky no matter who is on the floor, and Kenneth Faried and Randy Foye have led them to some unlikely wins lately. The Nuggets will miss the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. We'll never know whether they could have kept the streak alive in the incredibly competitive Western Conference, even with a fully healthy roster, but they never really had a chance with all the injuries. The question now is what they can do next season.
- Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers have had the highest offensive efficiency for a while on basketball-reference, but they finally passed the Heat yesterday on NBA.com. (The two sites calculate possessions slightly differently, which in turn changes the points per 100 possessions calculation.)
- Healthy squad. It should be noted that the Clippers were far from healthy in their two losses in Denver this season. They played the February game without Chris Paul -- then the backcourt injuries flip-flopped in the March meeting, and Paul was the only player among the Clippers' top four guards to actually appear in the game. The Nuggets will see a very different Clippers team with Paul and Redick starting, Collison and Crawford coming off the bench.
- Interesting rotations. With all four of his guards available together for the first time since the first month of the season, Doc Rivers broke out some really interesting rotations Saturday afternoon against the Kings. Darren Collison has been starting at shooting guard next to Paul for the better part of a month, and Rivers must have liked it, because even with Redick and Crawford both healthy, his first substitution was to bring in Collison for Redick. That seemed at first like an desire to bring Crawford back slowly, but then he played Crawford and Redick together for a stretch in the second quarter. The truth is that both Collison and Crawford are combo guards, and any permutation of the Clippers top four backcourt players is an option -- something we're finally getting to see in the last week of the season.
- Sneaky uniform choice? The Nuggets made a below the radar move back in March when they hosted the Clippers -- they wore their blue alternate uniforms for a home game. That forced the Clippers to wear their road reds, in which they've had a much poorer record this season. That's good scouting by the Nuggets. Of course, the Clippers have been pretty good in their whites this season also -- they've already set a franchise record with 33 home wins, and a win in their home finale tonight would not only extend that mark, but would also assure them of at least a tie for the best home record in the West.
- What are the Clippers playing for? The Clippers still have several things to play for, even though they are probably going to finish with the three seed in the conference. There's the franchise record for regular season wins. A win would also extend their current streak of year over year improvement to five seasons. They can put some pressure on the Thunder and keep the race for the two seed alive through the final day of the season; Scott Brooks would probably love to rest Durant and Westbrook tomorrow, but he can't do that if the Clippers win tonight. The Clippers also need one more win to clinch home court advantage in a potential NBA Finals matchup with the Pacers. If the eventual goal is to win a championship, home court in the Finals is just as important as anything else. Whether they get there or not is a different question. If they do get there, they will want to open at home -- especially against the Pacers, who have the best home record in the league but are .500 on the road.
- 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. 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 Andre 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 been red hot lately, so he's all the way up to .414 this season. He does take a lot of threes, which drags down his percentage, but still. The other signings for the Nuggets this summer were Hickson and Nate Robinson, who are both out for the season with knee injuries. Ouch. Of course, Foye hit the miracle three at the buzzer in February to defeat the Clippers, and he went off for 30 against Houston last week.
- 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:
Romeo and Juliet -- Act V, Scene 3 -- Romeo
Thou detestable maw, thou womb of death,
Gorged with the dearest morsel of the earth,
Thus I enforce thy rotten jaws to open,
And, in despite, I'll cram thee with more food!