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Clippers-Nuggets preview: A Trap Game

Playing on a second consecutive night and preparing for the 8-game Grammy trip, can the Clippers avoid the trap?

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season

January 26th, 2015, 7:30 PM
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
13-12 East 7-11
17-6 West 11-15
19-7 Home 12-12
11-7 Road 6-14
11-11 .500+ 8-18
19-3 .500- 10-8
7-3 L10 4-6
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 Jusuf Nurkic
Advanced Stats
96.5 (13th of 30) Pace 98.7 (4th of 30)
110.8 (1st of 30) ORtg 102.0 (17th of 30)
103.4 (15th of 30) DRtg 105.1 (22nd of 30)

JaVale McGee (leg fracture) out

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

Date Venue Final

12/19/14 Denver Nuggets 109, Clippers 106 Recap Box
01/26/15 Los Angeles Tonight

04/04/15 Denver

04/13/15 Los Angeles

The Big Picture:

Tonight, it's twofold. First, if this game were Chris Andersen, it would have "trap" tattooed on its forehead. The Clippers beat a quality Suns team in Phoenix last night in impressive fashion behind an increasingly characteristic top-drawer showing by the starting five. They'll have to get right back to it against a Denver squad that is always feisty and athletic. Add it up and you could hardly blame the Clippers for overlooking this game against an 18-26 Nuggets team when the annual and arduous Grammy trip begins Wednesday.

The second part of the picture is all about the scouting. As in, who should we be scouting in Denver? As in, who do we want to pluck from the going-nowhere Nuggets? Both Nuggets swingmen Arron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler would be quality additions and appear to be eminently available. Tonight could be their Hollywood auditions.

The Antagonist:

The Nuggets have had a long, strange tumble from the mountaintop of their 2009 season when they scrapped their way to the Western Conference Final. After Carmelo Anthony's departure, they rebuilt themselves as a starless team that (literally) ran its way to sparkling home records and some surprising playoff spots. Now, however, they are neither good nor particularly young, and worst of all, they're boring. Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried can be interesting, but have reached developmental plateaus. Danilo Gallinari was a strong contributor before injuries sapped him of his athleticism. JaVale McGee has missed most of the season, and I'm hard pressed to tell you whether that's a good or a bad thing. This roster lacks upside, short of Bosnian hulk and rising cult hero Jusuf Nurkic, hence the constant trade talk that envelops the franchise. Another retooling is coming.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers rank 3rd in the NBA in net rating (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) at +7.6. The Nuggets are 22nd at -3.1. This is a lopsided matchup on paper, and sometimes, it's just that easy.
  • The schedule. The Grammy trip looms. Tonight's contest is the Clippers' last at Staples Center until February 11th. Of their eight opponents, only two sport a losing record. This could be the springboard to playoff success, or the disaster that cements the Clippers as a bottom-half playoff seed. There is a great deal riding on this stretch.
  • Trade bait. I suspect that this will be the primary, if not only, reason many of you will watch tonight's game against the lottery-bound Nuggets. Arron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler remain the two best wing players that Clippers fans can reasonably hope the team acquires. Both have been linked to the Clippers before, particularly Afflalo, for whom the Clippers were once reportedly willing to Eric Bledsoe. Both are solid defenders, although Afflalo's reputation as a stopper has thankfully dissipated, given that he hasn't lived up to it in several seasons. One word of caution: neither has been very good this year. To wit, they both have PER's under 13 -- that's bad -- and both are shooting less than 35% from three. Yes, either could be a welcome contributor, especially to the Clippers' thin (to be kind) bench, but I doubt either acquisition would prove to be transformational.
  • The Clippers starting five. Their dominance deserves its own column, but I would like to highlight one performance marker from the 20-point whoopin' they issued in Phoenix last night. The starters' respective plus-minus statistics from the game: DeAndre Jordan +14, Matt Barnes +24, Blake Griffin +25, J.J. Redick +27, and Chris Paul +27. They stuck our beloved Eric Bledsoe with a -30 for the night. Those are remarkable numbers to achieve on the road against a quality team.
  • Nuggets on the run. Denver is 7th in the NBA in fast break points, which is good, because they're half-court offense looks atrocious. I watched a good portion of their loss against Washington last night -- a small sample size alert is in full effect -- and the large majority of their offense comes from Ty Lawson or Jameer Nelson just navigating a bunch of random screens. They don't move the ball (or themselves), as their 25th-ranked assist ratio attests. The problem for them is that the easiest fast break buckets come off of turnovers, and the Nuggets don't force turnovers. They're 26th in the league in opponent turnover ratio. They have just two players averaging more than a steal per game, and one of them, rookie guard Gary Harris, isn't a regular contributor. Perimeter defenders Afflalo and Chandler barely muster a steal per game combined. It's a tough way to make a living, and the Nuggets look poorer for it.
  • Jusuf Nurkic. Denver fans should just call him "The Bright Spot" or "The Silver Lining". He's their only source of hope, but what a source! The 20-year-old big man has writers and fans alike fawning over his power and athleticism. The 6'11" 280-pounder is raw, but is already a legitimate rim protector and rebounder. Just the 16th overall pick in the 2014 draft, he looks like one of the three or four best rookies in his class, is a probable starter for a long time, and if he can really sharpen his offensive skills, may become a star.
  • Jusuf Nurkic's father. Last night's Nuggets broadcast showed Jusuf's father, Hariz, in the stands. Hariz is a police officer and a mountainous man, stands a reported 7' and 400 pounds, and looks like he may have kidnapped Liam Neeson's daughter. May Jusuf and his father be central figures in the NBA and in my life for a long time.
  • Connections. Covered by Steve from the December 19 loss, although most of those connections have been traded or released (e.g. Mozgov, Farmar, Nate Robinson)... Randy Foye, Denver guard, played two seasons with the Clippers... Jameer Nelson, Denver guard, and Hedo Turkoglu played five seasons together in Orlando, including the 2009 season when they lost to the Hated Ones in the Finals*... Denver Assistant Coach Chris Farr was an assistant coach at Loyola Marymount in Westchester, my alma mater and a generally terrible basketball program... If I missed any, tell me in the comments.

*Editorial comment: I hate you, Orlando Magic, for casting some cursed spell that allowed you to shoot an estimated 149% on contested, fadeaway three-pointers in that series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, robbing an entire nation of the Kobe Bryant-LeBron James Finals matchup the NBA annals richly deserved, just so you could wet your pants for five games against the Lakers. Damn you. Damn you straight to Hell.

  • Wikipedia entry: "The Nome Nugget is a weekly newspaper published in Nome, Alaska. It is Alaska's oldest newspaper, established 1900." That's literally the entirety of the Wikipedia entry. Nome's population is approximately 3,700. Tomorrow's high in Nome is forecast to be -10 degrees. I presume they write a lot about snow and stuff. Or perhaps nobody reads it and they just burn copies of it to stay warm.