|2015-16 NBA Regular Season|
|November 24, 2015 — 6:00 PM PT|
|Pepsi Center (Denver, Colorado)|
|Prime Ticket, The Beast 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM|
|Win-Loss Breakdown ('15-'16)|
|Emmanuel Mudiay||PG||Chris Paul|
|Gary Harris||SG||J.J. Redick|
|Danilo Gallinari||SF||Paul Pierce|
|Darrell Arthur||PF||Blake Griffin|
|Nikola Jokic||C||DeAndre Jordan|
|Efficiency Stats ('14-'15)|
|99.6 (14th)||Pace||99.7 (12th)|
|110.9 (17th)||OffRtg||103.9 (5th)|
|105.3 (25th)||DefRtg||104.3 (22nd)|
|-4.4 (23rd)||NetRtg||-0.4 (19th)|
Kenneth Faried (Ankle) Doubtful
Joffrey Lauvergne (Back) Doubtful
Wilson Chandler (Hip) Out
Jusuf Nurkic (Knee) Out
Time for the Clippers to panic?
Things aren't going well in Clipperland. The team is riding a three-game losing streak following Sunday afternoon's drubbing at the hands of the Toronto Raptors, and it's gotten to the point where players and coaches are (reportedly) at each other's throats. We're 13 games in! The glass-half-full approach to this is that it's good that the team is upset with its recent performance and should work the kinks out sooner rather than later. The pessimistic view is that this team was always going to be a mess chemistry-wise, and the fact that they're already blowing up is a sign that it'll never work in the long term.
Fortunately for the Clippers, it's not like the rest of the Western Conference is exactly tearing it up right now. The Warriors and Spurs are the only teams that are establishing themselves as the class of the group. The No. 3 team in the conference right now is the 9-5 Dallas Mavericks, which was a team most expected to middle around somewhere between the No. 8 and 10 spots. For all of their issues, the Clips are just 1.5 back of the No. 4 slot, currently held by Oklahoma City.
The Clippers shouldn't panic yet. Talent is typically what prevails in the NBA, and LAC has as much on-paper talent as anyone. Nabbing a sixth or seventh seed this year would be far from the worst outcome, anyway. Considering Golden State ALREADY seems to have the No. 1 spot locked up, finishing anything but fourth, fifth or eighth means you may be able to avoid them until the conference finals. The Clippers are a team attempting to incorporate several new cogs on the fly, and it's up to Doc Rivers and his staff to figure out how to make it work. Can they do it? Time will tell. So far, though, the signs haven't been positive.
What's new with the Nuggets?
Following a miserable 2014-15 campaign marred by chemistry and coaching issues, the Denver Nuggets made a couple of big moves during the offseason. The first was the hiring of head coach Michael Malone, who was famously (and wrongfully) dismissed by Sacramento early last season. Malone is known as a defensive-minded coach, though obviously he's still trying to make his mark in that department with his new team. Considering this team nearly staged a mutiny last season with Brian Shaw at the helm, though, Malone feels like a solid, credible hire.
One of the other major splashes made by the Nuggets this summer was the trade of Ty Lawson to the Rockets. The troubled-but-talented guard had clearly worn out his welcome in Denver after a slew of off-court incidents, and it was in the best interest of both parties for him to move on. The move was essentially a straight salary dump, as Lawson's legal issues had sapped his trade value. Denver acquired Nick Johnson, Kostas Papanikolaou, Joey Dorsey and Pablo Prigioni from Houston in the deal. The only player still on the Nuggets' roster from the trade is Papanikolaou, though even he was briefly released before re-signing shortly after the beginning of the season.
The trade was truly a way of handing the keys to the franchise over to Emmanuel Mudiay. Denver drafted Mudiay with the No. 7 pick in the draft, and he's shown flashes of brilliance through his first 14 games as a pro. He's an excellent athlete with great vision and playmaking ability. Mudiay has also shown that he has the tools to become an elite defender at some point. One aspect of his game that was always going to be a work-in-progress was his jumper. He's connecting on a putrid 32% of his shot attempts overall, and only 27.5% of his three-point tries. Often times he'll settle for a midrange jumper when he likely could've gotten all the way to the rim. He's also turning the ball over a ton (5.1 TOs per 36 minutes), but these are things you'd expect from a 19-year-old rookie being tasked with running an NBA team. It's going to take some time, but Mudiay may well be the star Denver has been seeking since Carmelo Anthony left.
Matchup to watch
Chris Paul vs. Emmanuel Mudiay
Since his adrenaline-fueled supernova effort in his return against the Warriors last Thursday, Chris Paul has struggled. The Clipper point guard still isn't 100% physically, and his shot still isn't falling. He's connected on 36% of his shots in the last two games, and he hasn't been able to have the overall offensive impact we're used to seeing. I'd say he should sit a few more games in an attempt to get himself physically fit, but the Clippers can't really afford to keep losing games. They need him out there, even if he's not himself. 70% of Chris Paul is still better than the alternatives.
Mudiay's size and athleticism will be a major test for CP3 on both ends. He owns a substantial height advantage (6'5" to 6'0"), and has rare skill as a shot-blocking guard. He has at least one block in eight of the Nuggets' first 14 games, and helped secure Denver's win over Portland a couple of weeks ago with two crucial, late blocks on Damian Lillard. Forcing Mudiay to stay out of the paint and to try and beat the Clips with his jump shot is a must for L.A. in this matchup.
Another matchup worth watching will be Danilo Gallinari against the Clipper wings. Gallo has been up-and-down so far this season, but he's a big, versatile threat that can do damage from anywhere on the floor. Rather than try and match him up against the likes of Paul Pierce or Wesley Johnson, perhaps Doc's best move would be to try Josh Smith at times. Smith is both big and agile enough to theoretically stay with Gallinari, and it would be a good way of getting him some more minutes. He still hasn't played more than 19 minutes in any game to this point, which may have been the reason behind his reported shouting match with an unnamed Clipper coach on Sunday. Given the all-around struggles of the Clippers, it couldn't hurt to see what Smith can do with a larger role. Plus, a matchup like this may call for it.
Denver has a slew of injuries at the moment, leaving them particularly short in the frontcourt. Kenneth Faried, Jusuf Nurkic and Joffrey Lauvergne are all likely to be out, meaning the Clippers will get a heavy dosage of Nikola Jokic, Darrell Arthur and J.J. Hickson. The news of Faried's probable absence has to be music to the ears of the Clippers, considering they can't seem to buy a rebound these days. Faried is a relentless presence on the glass that would surely look to compound L.A.'s woes in that area.
Jokic (another rookie) has been very solid in an expanded role for the Nuggets over the last few games, posting a double-double against both San Antonio and Golden State in the past week. He has a smooth release on his jump shot with range extending as far as the three-point line. His stretchiness may pull DeAndre Jordan further away from the basket than he'd like, which could mean trouble for the Clips on defense.
The primary bench presence of late for the Nuggets has been Will Barton, who was acquired at the deadline last season in the Arron Afflalo trade. He's shown improved range this season, as evidenced by his 43% shooting on three-pointers in November. A high-energy guy that can score in bunches, Barton evokes thoughts of Corey Brewer with his height, lean frame and athleticism. Given the dearth of viable defensive options at the Clippers' disposal, we could see a lot of Austin Rivers or Wesley Johnson trying to stop him.
As for the Clippers, who knows what their starting lineup will look like? Paul Pierce has been starting for the last several games, though he's struggled to make any sort of impact. Wesley Johnson has easily been the team's most reliable option at small forward, but the ideal role for him these days may be as a scoring threat off-the-bench. The "revamped" bench hasn't yet paid dividends. The Clipper backups look stagnant offensively, opting for a lot of isolation play rather than trying to run an actual offense. They may be able to get away with it against a shoddy defensive bunch like the Nuggets, but that's something they're going to have to improve upon if they have any hopes of contending. Here's hoping this game can be a stepping stone for the Clips reserve unit.
Home court "advantage"
Due to the altitude, Denver has always enjoyed an inherent home court advantage. Playing the second half of a back-to-back at Pepsi Center has been a death knell for opposing teams for years. The Clippers are just 1-4 away from STAPLES Center so far this year, and went 1-1 in Denver last season.
Despite the Nuggets being a fairly talented team and far from one of the worst in the league, Denver ranks dead-last in the NBA in attendance so far this season. The Nuggets are drawing just 13,169 fans through seven home games, which is fewer than the 76ers, who are BLATANTLY TRYING TO LOSE. The Nuggets haven't been very good over the last couple of seasons, which seems to have completely torpedoed local interest. The thin air could prove troublesome for a Clipper team that has looked downright lethargic lately, but at least they likely won't have to be dealing with a boisterous crowd, to boot.
Game day song of choice
Denver may well have a fine music scene, but it's hard to think of anyone really notable with Denver ties without looking it up. A quick Google search reveals that Earth, Wind and Fire lead singer Philip Bailey hails from the Mile High City. I don't know anything about this band (other than that it exists), but one of their songs is called "Boogie Wonderland". The Nuggets' coach, Michael Malone, previously coached DeMarcus "Boogie" Cousins with the Kings, and is apparently the only NBA head coach Cousins has really gotten along with in his career to this point. You could've had a "Boogie Wonderland", Kings, but you let it all slip away by prematurely firing Malone. Shame on you.
With this being the Nuggets preview, I'd be remiss to not drop a John Denver mention in here somewhere. Sure, he lived in Aspen, and his last name was really Deutschendorf, but hey, Denver! LET'S BAKE THIS CAKE:
If that doesn't make you want to run through a wall, I don't know what will. This one gets underway tonight at 6pm Pacific. Let's hope the Clippers can get back on the winning track.