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Preseason Game #1: Dawn of a New Season

The 2015-16 season officially tips off in Los Angeles as the Clippers host the Denver Nuggets. It's the first official game of the season in the association and, while it is just preseason, it's great to have basketball back.

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Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
2015/2016 NBA Preseason

October 2, 2015 | 7:30 PM (PDT)
STAPLES Center (Los Angeles, California)
Prime Ticket, NBA TV, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown (2014-2015 Regular Season)
11-19 East 19-11
19-33 West 37-15
6-10 Division 12-4
19-22 Home 30-11
11-30 Road 26-15
12-33 .500 + 19-22
18-19 - .500 37-4
2-4 OT 1-1
3-7 L10 9-1
Projected Starters
Emmanuel Mudiay PG Chris Paul
Randy Foye SG J.J. Redick
Danilo Gallinari SF Wesley Johnson
Kenneth Faried PF Blake Griffin
Darrell Arthur C DeAndre Jordan
Advanced Stats (2014-2015 Regular Season)
98.67 (4th of 30) Pace 96.96 (10th of 30)
101.6 (21st of 30) ORtg 109.8 (1st of 30)
105.5 (26th of 30) DRtg 103.0 (15th of 30)
Jusuf Nurkic (Out) Knee
Lance Stephenson (Questionable) Osteitis Pubis
Kenneth Faried (Questionable) Cramps
Austin Rivers (Probable) Ankle

Cole Aldrich (Out) Ankle
Clippers won 2014-15 season series against Nuggets; 3-1
Clips Nation Recap
NBA Box Score
Nuggets 109, Clippers 106
Box Score
Los Angeles
Clippers 102, Nuggets 98
Box Score
Clippers 107, Nuggets 92
Box Score
Los Angeles
Clippers 110, Nuggets 103
Box Score

Hollywood Hoopers
After a successful 2014-15 campaign, the Los Angeles Clippers return to the court with a slightly revamped team outside of the main four starters. Gone are Matt Barnes, Spencer Hawes, and a host of other bodies that factored into the team’s season last year. They’ve restocked with viable bench components who seem like they’ll do a better job than last year’s group did, but the team is still searching for its small forward after dealing Barnes away. During the preseason, be on the lookout for that battle. It’ll be the most important one.

Mile High Club
The last two years for the Denver Nuggets have been a woeful display of inadequacy. The team went 30-52 last season and just 66-98 since getting rid of George Karl. They’re now on their third head coach in three years after hiring Mike Malone and that’s just one of the major changes. The other was Ty Lawson being shipped off to the Houston Rockets for pennies on the dollar in an effort to purge any problems. The team is now a mix of veteran talent and young players who could join together and help the franchise rekindle some of the things that made them so great. It’s a growing year in Denver, but it could be a fun one.

Opposition's Blog: Denver Stiffs

Comparison of Key Metrics
Going off of last season’s numbers, the only thing the Nuggets bested the Clippers in was pace – i.e. possessions per game. The Clippers featured the top offensive team in the league and finished middle-of-the-pack defensively. After the All-Star Break, however, the Clippers were in a tie for 8th in Defensive Rating alongside the Boston Celtics. As for Denver, they struggled throughout the year with injuries, upheaval, and coaching changes. This year should be a better one for them as far as metrics go since Malone and company will have them focusing on growing together from day one.

Alright, so the season is finally here and we get to watch glorious basketball once again. Even if it is only the preseason, it’s still great to have basketball back in our lives. As far as the preseason schedules are concerned, Clippers play the Toronto Raptors on the road on October 4 before heading over to China to play the Charlotte Hornets a couple times. After that, they travel back to STAPLES Center to play the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers to end the preseason. For Denver, they play five of their seven preseason games on the road. After this game they travel to play the Dallas Mavericks in Texas before ultimately going home and playing the Chicago Bulls at the Coors Events Center (where the University of Colorado plays). Following that, it’s on the road against the Warriors, home at the Pepsi Center against the Phoenix Suns, and then a two-game road trip to finish the preseason against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz. Weird to see a team only get two home preseason games, though.

Battle for the Starting SF Job
According to Doc Rivers’ comments, the starting small forward battle is between two guys – Paul Pierce and Wesley Johnson. No one knows who is going to win it and even Doc insinuated that it could even be just based on matchups, Pierce’s age, and a lot of things. Essentially, no one knows who is going to be the Clippers starting small forward on opening night in Sacramento. It’s the battle to watch, though, as far as preseason is concerned. A lot of the other roles are already defined, but who starts at small forward is a vital piece. Replacing Matt Barnes isn’t an easy thing. After all, the team had 118.7 ORtg and 102.7 DRtg in 1778 minutes over the last two years when starting Paul, Redick, Barnes, Griffin, and Jordan. It’s not easy to improve upon that. It’ll be a test and the first page of that test is against Denver. For now, inside track goes to Johnson. For now.

Denver’s Youth Movement
It seems like, at least on the surface, that Denver attempted to get a little younger this offseason. They dealt away Ty Lawson and the pieces they got back weren’t anything noteworthy. They eventually waived three of the four players they got back in the deal and the only one left is Nick Johnson. Also, they drafted Emmanuel Mudiay with the seventh overall pick and he figures to be the team’s starting point guard on opening night. If it’s possible to grow them together, the pairing of Mudiay and Gary Harris could be quite good in the future. On top of that, they signed Wilson Chandler (28) and Danilo Gallinari (27) to contract extensions this offseason and still have Jusuf Nurkic (21) as their center when he gets back to being healthy. All in all, Denver has a bright future with all the talent they possess. Only three players on the roster – Randy Foye, Mike Miller, and Jameer Nelson – are over the age of 28 right now so this is a younger roster with building potential.

Bench Ball-Handler By Committee
There can be such a thing as "too many chefs in the kitchen." In the case of the Clippers bench unit, that most certainly could be a problem if not properly addressed from the outset. However, according to rumblings out of training camp, it’s possible that it will work. The bench features a melting pot of ball-handlers that seem not as adept without the ball. Players such as Lance Stephenson, Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, and Josh Smith are all much more comfortable with the ball in their hands than moving without it. Yet, for this concoction to work, the group will have to come together and work as one. The upside with so many ball-handlers is that it creates a problem for the defense. They never know who is going to break them down on a certain possession and must key in on all the players as ball-handlers. Fortunately for the bench, it seems like they’re going to be a unit built on chaos and defense which means less structure on the offensive end. They’re a run-and-gun unit more than a system offense. Whoever gets the ball off of a steal, block, or rebound will push it up the floor and try to make things happen. In that sense, all these ball-handlers could work.

Don’t Expect Structured Offense
Per Doc Rivers, don’t expect much half-court offense in this first game. He wants them "to play freely and with pace." It makes sense when you really think about it. There’s no real reason to show even a little bit of your hand in the first preseason game. The Clippers are going to be a top offensive team again so no real offensive system needs to be run early on in the preseason. Those moments can come in practice and in some of the later preseason games for possessions here and there. Just don’t read too much into this one game when the team isn’t going to play with any real system. It’ll just be an up-and-down pace with emphasis on playing freely. It’ll be fun.

Quirky Lineup We’d Like To See
It’s tough to say what lineups we’d all like to see early on in the preseason, but one of them would certainly feature Pablo Prigioni, Austin Rivers, Lance Stephenson, Wesley Johnson, and Josh Smith. Ultimately, that lineup won’t matter much in the regular season, but it still would be cool to see them play in the preseason. In theory, you could see Prigioni running the pick-and-roll with Smith while Johnson and Rivers spot-up and Lance cuts. The other alternative is a Lance-Smith pick-and-roll while the other three spot up. In transition, they could be fun to watch as Stephenson, Johnson, and Smith use their athleticism to fill the wings and rim run. There are certainly a ton of options this year.

Much Money, Such Talent, So Excite, Wow
According to Basketball Insiders, only three teams – Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, and Oklahoma City Thunder – have a higher payroll this season than the Los Angeles Clippers. Los Angeles’ current payroll is a staggering $98,347,538 right now. When taking a step back, you notice that $60,065,421 is taken up by the trio of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Chris Paul. That’s roughly 61 percent of the team’s payroll right there. It makes some sense as those are the team’s three linchpins. The Clippers are spending money at an astronomical rate and the team seems poised to make that spending pay off relatively soon. With the added influx of bargain talent like Josh Smith, Paul Pierce, and others, you can understand why expectations are high this upcoming season. This is arguably the most talent the team has ever had and appears to be the most flexible in playing style. Get excited. This could be a special year.

  • Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Jamal Crawford spent a very brief time as teammates during the 2008-09 season as members of the New York Knicks.
  • Randy Foye is a former member of the Los Angeles Clippers.
  • Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick were once teammates on the Orlando Magic.
  • Branden Dawson and Gary Harris were teammates at Michigan State for two years.
  • Austin Rivers and Erick Green played against each other three times in college. In all three games, Rivers outscored Green and Duke beat Virginia Tech.
  • Nikoloz Tskitishvili was selected 5th overall by the Denver Nuggets in 2002 NBA Draft.
  • Darrell Arthur and Cole Aldrich were teammates at the University of Kansas for one year.
  • Jamal Crawford and J.J. Hickson were once teammates on the Portland Trail Blazers.
  • Nick Johnson, Pablo Prigioni, Chuck Hayes, and Josh Smith were all teammates last year with the Houston Rockets.

  • (If some connections were missed, list them in the comment section.)

    Video Game Reference
    Back in December of 1998, Electronic Arts published a game by the developer Westwood Studios. It was called Golden Nugget 64 and was available for purchase on the Nintendo 64 game console. While its graphics are ancient by today’s standards, IGN dot com still gave the game a 7.8 out of 10 and declared it "good." The video game featured ten modes of games, including Blackjack, 5-Card Draw, Craps, Roulette, Mini Baccarat, and six different types of slot machines. It was basically a groundbreaking game as it managed to give users a real casino feel without actually losing any of the money (beyond what you paid for the game). You can still buy the game on Amazon and even get the Nintendo DS version.