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Clippers-Nuggets preview: Don't Trip Now

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With three days to go in the NBA's regular season, the Clippers find themselves in the 3-seed. At this moment in time, it would be unforgivable to trip up and let a chance like this slip out of their hands against the Nuggets.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season
vs
54-26

30-50
April 13, 2015, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center (Los Angeles, California)
Prime Ticket, Altitude, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown (2014-2015)
19-11 East 11-19
35-15 West 19-31
11-4 Division 6-10
29-11 Home 19-22
25-15 Road 11-28
19-22 .500 + 12-31
35-4 - .500 18-19
1-1 OT 2-4
9-1 L10 4-6
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Ty Lawson
J.J. Redick SG Randy Foye
Matt Barnes SF Wilson Chandler
Blake Griffin PF Danilo Gallinari
DeAndre Jordan C Kenneth Faried
Advanced Stats
96.95 (10th of 30) Pace 98.55 (4th of 30)
109.8 (1st of 30) ORtg 101.4 (22nd of 30)
102.9 (15th of 30) DRtg 105.2 (25th of 30)
Injuries/Other

Darrell Arthur (Questionable) Calf

Jameer Nelson (Questionable) Hip

Clippers lead season series over Nuggets; 2-1
Date
Venue
Final
Clips Nation Recap
ESPN Box Score
12/19/2014
Denver
Nuggets 109, Clippers 106
Recap
Box Score
01/26/2015
Los Angeles
Clippers 102, Nuggets 98
Recap
Box Score
04/04/2015
Denver
Clippers 107, Nuggets 92
Recap
Box Score

It’s Hip To Be A Clip
To say that the Los Angeles Clippers are rolling along and playing great basketball would be an understatement. Since the All-Star Break, the team is 19-7 which currently shapes up as the third highest win total over that time period and the third best winning percentage (19-7) behind the Golden State Warriors (23-6) and San Antonio Spurs (21-7). Not shockingly, those are also the two other most dangerous teams in the Western Conference right now. Those are also the only three teams since then to post an ORtg of at least 105.0 and a DRtg of under 100. The team has gone 12-1 over their last 13 games and generally looks ready to go for the playoffs. Just two games remain but with themselves playing in good form, it’s hard to see how they don’t finish the year on a strong note.

1-2-3 Six Weeks’ers
If the Clippers are one of the best teams in the league since the All-Star Break then surely the Denver Nuggets have been one of the worst teams since the week long interlude. While injuries have definitely affected the way the team has been able to formulate a roster during the stretch run of the year, Denver’s still tried to compete in games before ultimately bowing out with a loss. They’re just 2-4 in April and are just trying to get to the end of the year. This team is still dangerous, though. Just ask the Dallas Mavericks, who had to survive a double overtime test from the Nuggets in Denver and won thanks to Raymond Felton making game-winning plays on both ends of the court. That last sentence isn’t a typo. Clippers better take these Nuggets seriously to beat them again.

For More: Visit Denver Stiffs

Comparison of Key Metrics
Clippers rank second in the league this year in Net Rating (+6.8) with the San Antonio Spurs right on their heels (+6.8). However you want to look at it, the Clippers are right there with the Spurs for the moniker of the second best team in basketball. While the team is first in Offensive Rating, they’re second in Effective Field Goal Percentage and True Shooting Percentage. While their season long Defensive Rating of 102.9 isn’t anything to write about home about, it’s been 99.8 since the All-Star Break which is right there with both the Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers and has them sitting 6th in that department since the break. Denver just has not been good this year. Their -3.9 Net Rating since the break ranks 22nd and their season long Net Rating of -3.8 ranks 24th. Their Effective Field Goal Percentage ranks 25th and their True Shooting Percentage ranks 24th on the year. In essence, the Nuggets are pretty poor based on nearly every metric you look at. They are a very good offensive rebounding team, though, so you do have to give them that much.

Schedule
This section of the preview has now turned into the easiest thanks to the NBA regular season coming to an end on Wednesday night. That is for the rest of the NBA. See, the Clippers finish the season on Tuesday night in Phoenix after this game against the Nuggets thanks to a dumb scheduling quirk. The Clippers and the Phoenix Suns are the only two teams to finish the year a day ahead of everybody else. So going into Wednesday, the Clippers have absolutely zero control of where they finish and are at the mercy of everyone else. If they do win out, though, they’ll at least guarantee themselves of no worse than the 3-seed. Denver finishes up the season Wednesday night in Golden State against the Warriors. In all likelihood, Denver finishes the year 30-52 and locks themselves into the 7th spot going into the draft lottery. If that happens, the Nuggets would have a 4.3 percent chance at getting the top pick and a 15.0 percent chancing of getting a top three pick.

X-Factor: Jusuf Nurkic
It’s hard to talk about the Denver Nuggets and their potential for an upset in this game without once again mentioning the likes of their brutish Bosnian center, Jusuf Nurkic. The stories about his father have been rehashed and there’s no use bringing them back up but Jusuf deserves a section unto himself to talk more about his exploits on the court this year. During the preview for last game, it was mentioned that his Per 36 Minute numbers were great outside of fouls. They still are. Per 36 Minutes this season, Nurkic is averaging 13.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 1.7 steals, and 1.6 assists. The trouble is with his foul trouble, which comes out to 6.7. Averaging a foul every 5 minutes or so isn’t exactly a way to make a case for more playing time. However, that’s hardly his fault. The interim head coach, Melvin Hunt, hasn’t figured out quite what to do with the younger guys on the team and seems overmatched in his duties so it’s led to Nurkic getting lost in the fold at times and leaves Kenneth Faried as the starting center. His defensive impact is extremely valuable to that team and he needs more minutes to showcase it despite foul trouble. When Nurkic is on the court this year, the Nuggest have a DRtg of 100.9. When he’s off the court, it balloons up to 106.8. While he struggled during the last meeting against the Clippers, Nurkic can give them some problems if he stays out of foul trouble and doesn’t pick up a flagrant foul again. Going to the rim and scoring won’t be easy when he’s in the game. That’s for sure.

Austin Rivers > Gary Harris
There have been 31 instances in the NBA of a rookie player getting at least 600 minutes and posting a Player Efficiency Rating of 7.0 or lower. Two of them will be in this game and could even face off against each other. Austin Rivers, the former number ten overall pick from the 2012 NBA Draft, posted a PER of 5.9 during his rookie campaign. Gary Harris, who was selected 19th overall, has posted a PER of 4.2. There is hope, though, for Harris. He’s young, he’s still a two-way player, and you can chalk this season up as a lost cause in a tumultuous situation that hasn’t done him any favors whatsoever thanks to a fired head coach who ran a stupid system and an interim head coach who hates young players. Next year should go better for him in that regard. In the case of Rivers, he found his niche in the league and, while he’s not anything noteworthy, he is going to probably stick around for a little while because of that. Nothing has really changed with Harris, though, as far his NBA profile goes. He can still be a great rim runner with a good shooting game, good ball-handling, and good defense. Those guys make it. For now, Austin Rivers can finally say he wasn’t the worst at something.

Just Two To Go, Stay Focused
The NBA regular season is a grind. It sort of mirrors the long 36-hour grind that the crabbers on Deadliest Catch do. You get exhausted both physically and mentally. And, in some cases, emotionally. That’s when the problems arise and mistakes get made. That can’t happen at this juncture of the season. Not with this team. Not now. They cannot afford to get tripped up by two teams who are playing some of the worst basketball in the NBA right now. The Clippers schedule broke perfectly for them to finish strong and finish strong is what they must do. They’re doing it so far. That’s the good sign. The bad sign is that they have played down to some competition this season, especially in a second meeting within a short period of time. If the team can avoid coming out flat, they should be fine. If they can avoid a second quarter letdown, they should be fine. It’s really as simple as that. The hardest part to know during this final two game tilt is how they’ll play on the second night of a back-to-back in Phoenix when they don’t control their own destiny as far as the 2-seed goes and as far as knowing who the team in the 6-seed would be. Either way, this team appears to be focused on the regular season finish line and seems to be getting stronger as the season progresses. In some cases, they’re San Antonio this year.

The Big Three-And-A-Half
You kind of hear Doc Rivers talking about how valuable DeAndre Jordan is to the team and how it’s really a big three now. That was one of the first things Rivers did when he took control of the team. He wanted everyone to know that it was a Big Three instead of just a Dynamic Duo. Well there’s kind of another guy right there in the fold with the Big Three and it’s J.J. Redick. They’re almost like a barbershop quartet in some regards. Yet, we cannot overlook the impact that Redick makes offensively and Jordan makes defensively. There’s almost a Big Three on each side of the court but also more like a three-and-a-half. Paul and Griffin seamlessly run the pick-and-roll while Redick comes off of a Jordan screen. The options are endless. And then there’s defensively with Paul hounding opposing guards, Redick playing sound team defense, Griffin – well – trying, and Jordan covering up the gaps on the back line. This group – and the entire starting lineup comes into play here, which obviously includes Matt Barnes – functions and coexists together better than almost every other starting unit in basketball. Chemistry is a funny thing and this unit has it. We can talk about how pathetic the bench has been at times but this starting lineup has been a godsend and is a championship level lineup whether people realize it or not.

The Rooster Is Crowing Again
Danilo Gallinari missed the last meeting with the Clippers and it might have been a blessing in disguise that he did because he’s been awesome since the All-Star Break. In the 23 games he’s played since the break, he’s averaging 18.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.9 assists on 43.8 percent from the field, 40.6 percent from three, and 89.4 percent from the line. This is definitely not the same Gallinari that was struggling earlier on this season to reclaim what made him so good a few years ago. He missed all of last season and came out of the gates rusty but has turned it on as of late. That includes going off for 47 points in the double overtime loss to the Mavericks and 40 points against the Orlando Magic. Gallinari was always a gifted scorer in this league when healthy and now that it looks like he’s finally getting back to normal, he’s turned into something of a force all over again. It’s hard not to root for him especially after everything he’s been through in his career. Gallinari is still just 26 years old and turns 27 in August. He’s entering the prime of his career and could be a solid trade candidate this offseason for a team in need of someone with his skills. Either way, Gallinari is back and the Clippers need to keep a close eye on him. Especially if he spots up from three in Denver’s current lineup with him at the power forward spot. Blake Griffin would have to stick with him like glue if Gallinari’s 42.0 percent shooting from three with a defender 4+ feet away from him since the All-Star Break is any kind of indication.

Who Coaches Denver Next Year?
Let’s keep this as blunt as possible. There’s no way Melvin Hunt is going to coach the Denver Nuggets at any point during the 2015-2016 NBA season. There can’t be any way. If that were to happen, they might as well just forfeit the future of the franchise and move them to Seattle right now. The Nuggets have made terrible coaching decision after terrible coaching decision. From firing George Karl to hiring Brian Shaw to thinking Melvin Hunt would do some good. You can’t have a coach that refuses to play the young guys on a bad team. That’s not how you get them to get any better whatsoever. Sure, there are veteran players on this Denver Nuggets team but it hasn’t gotten them anywhere. Darrell Arthur is a free agent, Jameer Nelson has a player option, and Randy Foye has a team option. Hard to say if any of them are back. Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried are the only two players signed to a long-term deal for a significant amount of money lasting longer than through next season. Whoever the Nuggets decided to hire as a head coach must be able to work with young players, be able to play these guys in a system that benefits them rather than hinders them, and must do so by nurturing the core group as a whole. There’s one guy who comes to mind for this and it’s Mike D’Antoni. He might catch a lot of flak for things but no one can deny his basketball mind. A resurgence of the run-and-gun style that brought them success a couple seasons ago would do wonders. D’Antoni very well could be the guy to do it. The other option is Alvin Gentry, former Clippers assistant and current Warriors assistant. Either one would be ideal. D’Antoni should be the top option, though.

Connections
(This was copy-and-pasted from the last preview a week ago since it was easier and thorough as could be.) Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari will forever be entwined in history from that one time Griffin nearly ended Gallinari’s life with a dunk when The Rooster was still on the New York Knicks. Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Jamal Crawford spent a very brief time as teammates during the 2008-09 season as members of the Knicks. Randy Foye is a former member of the Clippers and saw his only career playoff foray with them back in 2011-12. Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, and J.J. Redick were all teammates on the Orlando Magic and made a Finals appearance together. Our own Glen Davis joined those aforementioned three in Orlando for a time, as well. J.J. Redick, J.J. Hickson, Chris Paul, and Ty Lawson all went to college in the state of North Carolina and each one went to a different college. I guess you can throw Dahntay Jones and Austin Rivers into the Duke boat there but no one will care. Jamal Crawford and J.J. Hickson were teammates on the Portland Trail Blazers for a little bit of time during the 2011-12 season. Jordan Hamilton was originally drafted by the Dallas Mavericks but was traded to the Nuggets on draft night, where he spent two-and-a-half years before being shipped off to Houston. Lester Hudson and Darrell Arthur were teammates for a very brief period of time in 2009-10 with the Memphis Grizzlies. Austin Rivers and Erick Green played against each other three times while in college as Rivers’ Duke squad beat Green’s Virginia Tech squad all three meetings. Rivers outscored Green in all three games.

Wikipedia Entry
The Nome Nugget is a weekly published newspaper in Nome, Alaska and serves as Alaska’s oldest newspaper. It was founded in 1900 and still runs to this day. The North Bay Nugget is a conservative daily newspaper in North Bay, Ontario, Canada and was founded in 1908. Another little nugget of information is that The Nuggets also refers to a close group of four granite islets that are close to Tasmania. Nugget can also be a type of hop. It’s described as primarily a bittering hop and has a floral aroma and flavor. Lastly, Nugget Falls is a waterfall that sits downstream of the Nugget Glacier in Alaska. It features two drops, with the longest being 278 feet.

Prediction
114 101
Clippers come out strong and pull away early, basically coasting for the entire game with some rough spots mixed in here and there that allows the Nuggets to get the lead back down to around 8 or so. Clippers put the game away late in the third quarter and allow the bench to take the bulk of the minutes in the fourth quarter without any fear of the lead slipping away in front of the home crowd in the final regular season game.
Team Leaders
Points: J.J. Redick (23) | Rebounds: DeAndre Jordan (17) | Assists: Chris Paul (13)