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Clippers-Nuggets Preview: Mile High Meeting

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There are only six games left in the Clippers season and this one in Denver against the lackluster Nuggets can be a big one to earning homecourt advantage in the first round. Gotta win the games you should win.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season
at
50-26

28-48
April 4, 2015, 6:00 PM
Pepsi Center (Denver, Colorado)
Prime Ticket, Altitude 2, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown (2014-2015)
19-11 East 11-19
31-15 West 17-29
9-4 Division 6-10
27-12 Home 17-20
23-15 Road 11-28
21-22 .500 + 12-20
29-4 - .500 15-17
1-1 OT 2-3
8-2 L10 3-7
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
97.02 (10th of 30) Pace 98.40 (4th of 30)
109.9 (1st of 30) ORtg 100.8 (23rd of 30)
103.4 (18th of 30) DRtg 105.0 (24th of 30)
Injuries/Other
Jamal Crawford (Questionable) Calf
Darrell Arthur (Questionable) Calf

Clippers and Nuggets tied in season series; 1-1
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

The Golden Boys
Clippers are coming into Denver fresh off of a two day hiatus after a thrilling victory over the Blazers on Wednesday evening. Thanks in large part to the brilliance of Chris Paul, the Clippers aren’t riding a two game losing streak and now can make a move onto some of the seeds just north of them if those teams are willing to help out with a few losses here and there. They’re winners of eight of their last ten and have looked great for the most part. They’ve played such a difficult schedule all year that they finally get to go into the final two weeks of the season with somewhat of a break rather than having to grind out a grueling stretch like they were not so long ago. They cannot overlook the Nuggets, though, despite the woes of Denver. That’d be foolish especially after the last time these two teams met in the Mile High city.

The Gold Diggers
Denver hasn’t had fun the last couple games. They’ve lost three straight with all three losses coming on the road to the Blazers, Jazz, and Spurs. The Nuggets are only 3-7 in their last ten games and generally haven’t competed that well in some of them. They’ve played some unorthodox starting lineups lately and look like they’ll continue that going forward since head coach Melvin Hunt seems enamored with bringing both Will Barton and Jusuf Nurkic off the bench rather than starting either one. They’re playing a lineup that features a couple 3.5 type guys – Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari – while putting a prototypical power forward at center just to give some versatility. Shocker, it’s not working well defensively. In the 62 minutes this new lineup has played over the last five games, teams are averaging 107.2 points per 100 possessions against them and the Nuggets are only scoring 94.5 points per 100 possessions. In essence, it stinks. Oh, and their rebound rate – 42.0 percent – stinks along with it. Plus, it’s not even like they’re playing at a faster pace with this type of lineup (93.16 possessions per 48 minutes). So it begs the question; why?

For More: Visit Denver Stiffs

Comparison of Key Metrics
Not to mince words but these two teams, on the surface, don’t play good defense. That’s different since the All-Star Break in regard to the Clippers. The team is giving up just 101.0 points per 100 possessions in the 22 contests they’ve played over that time and rank 12th in the NBA in that category. Their offense since then has hit 108.4 points per 100 possessions, which ranks as the fourth best offense. Denver, on the other hand, ranks 24th in Offensive Rating (99.4) and 22nd in Defensive Rating (104.8) since the break. Over that same time, the Nuggets rank as one of the five worst teams in the league in rebound rate (48.1 percent) while the Clippers rank 11th (50.6 percent) in that department. Essentially, one team grades out as good or better while the other doesn’t.

Schedule
Of the 30 NBA teams, the Clippers have the third easiest remaining strength of schedule. Their cumulative opponents record grades out at roughly a .420 or so winning percentage according to Playoff Status dot com. Only the Kings and Bucks have easier end-of-the-year schedules than the Clippers do at this point in time. After this game against the Nuggets, the Clippers return to Los Angeles to play against the Lakers in a Lakers home game before playing the Lakers again, as a Clippers home game this time, two days later. Then it’s that pivotal matchup with Memphis on the 11th with the Grizzlies come in on a back-to-back. After that, the team finishes the year with the Nuggets in Los Angeles and the Suns in Phoenix on a back-to-back that’ll see them end the season a day earlier than everyone else. As far as Denver is concerned, five of their six final games are against Pacific Division teams. They play the Clippers and Lakers in Denver before welcoming the Mavericks and Kings to the Mile High city. They then travel to play the Clippers in Los Angeles on the second night of a back-to-back, and then face the Warriors in Oakland to finish the season on the final day. All in all, a tough stretch for the Nuggets could get a whole lot tougher.

X-Factor: Jameer Nelson
Originally, this was going to be a space reserved for either Will Barton or Jusuf Nurkic but instead it goes to Jameer Nelson simply because the guy is still good and is a quality guard off the bench that can give the Clippers bench some fits. During J.J. Redick’s visit on Zach Lowe’s podcast a few days ago, Redick mentioned that the team had tried to sign Nelson during the offseason but he spurned them and instead signed with the Mavericks. Nelson has had somewhat of a whirlwind season. He played okay with Dallas and was actually the lead guard in an offense that was absolutely sensational and on pace to set records. Instead, he got traded to Boston and then shipped off to Denver in the Nate Robinson deal. All Nelson’s done since getting to Denver is average 9.8 points, 3.7 assists, and 1.9 rebounds on 45.3 percent shooting from the field and 36.2 percent from three. He’s had some good outings, though. He dropped 24 points on the Grizzlies in mid-March, 18 on the Pelicans the day before that, and 17 on a resting Warriors squad the game before that one. He also had 22 points against the Blazers a few games ago. The Clippers bench isn’t quite equipped to combat a bench guard who can light it up and Nelson can indeed do that on any given night. It’ll be up to Austin Rivers to somewhat slow Nelson down. We’ll see if he’s up to that task.

We Are Not Worthy, Point God
Let’s not even just discuss last game for Chris Paul. Let’s discuss the last couple. Over the last five games, Paul is averaging 25.0 points, 11.8 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.4 steals to go with 55.7 percent from the field, 50.0 percent from three, and 100.0 percent from the line. Even beyond that, Paul’s averaging 24.7 points, 10.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.4 steals on 52.1 percent from the field, 46.0 percent from three, and 94.2 percent from the line over the last 12 games. The team has gone 9-3 during that stretch. Chris Paul is playing some of the best basketball of his career. He’s dishing, he’s scoring, he’s defending, and he’s flat out carrying this team on his back for large stretches of games. I don’t know where this season will end up ranking on Paul’s personal list, but it’s probably the third finest season he’s put together in his career and the best, by far, he’s had since making his way out to Los Angeles. Early on in the season, all the talk around Paul was about him declining as a player because his PER was slipping. At 25.8, it’s the lowest it has been in his Clippers career. But, folks, that doesn’t mean anything. The Chris Paul we see now is better than the Chris Paul who put up a 27.0 PER in his first season here. This Chris Paul is ungodly.

Flying Lion Faces Manimal
If there’s one type of player who somewhat mirrors what Blake Griffin was like early on in Griffin’s career, it’s probably Kenneth Faried. That hustle type guy who wants to run and jump and dunk and rebound at all costs to help his team. The problem is that Faried isn’t as talented as Griffin was or is. Before the season started, Faried signed a brand new contract extension that will kick in next season and pay him $12.5 million per year over four years. It came out to be a 4-year and $50 million extension. The problem is that Faried hasn’t played like that type of player this season. Granted, he’s not being paid that money yet but you’d still like to see something. And I’m not penalizing Faried for not being Griffin. Not at all. It’s just you’d expect more out of the guy by now. Griffin, meanwhile, is playing like a guy who deserves all the money he’s being paid. Since his return, Griffin’s averaging 20.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.0 blocks on 53.0 percent from the field and 78.8 percent from the line. Most astounding is how much better his jumper is looking lately. After starting off rusty there in his return, it’s rounding into form and appears to be on the verge of being a legitimate threat in the playoffs for teams who sag off of him and dare him to hit those types of shots. He’s also just one of two players averaging 20-7-5 this year. The other is Russell Westbrook. Also, Griffin is second to just LeBron James in assists per game by a forward this year. He’s doing it all offensively.

Hylander Storms Bosnia
In this long NBA season that seems like it’ll never end, especially for the Denver Nuggets, one of the few bright spots as far as up-and-coming players go is Jusuf Nurkic. To understand the awesomeness of Nurkic, you must first understand that his father is 7-feet tall and 400 pounds and is a police officer over in Bosnia and Herzegovina. His father also beat up 14 people .. at one time. Oh, and his son can play some ball. He anchors Denver’s defense when he’s in there and the team sees its defense go down the drain the second he steps off the court. The problem is two-fold, though. (A) Melvin Hunt doesn’t play Nurkic as much as he probably should and (B) Nurkic has a fouling problem. Per 36 minutes this season, Nurkic averages 6.6 fouls. He also averages 13.8 points and 12.4 rebounds but the fouling is a huge deal and one he’ll have to work on. Nurkic has shown some semblance of a jumper and that bodes well for him going forward. But in this game, when he’s in there, he’ll have to deal with DeAndre Jordan and Jordan’s ability to be a game-changer on both the offensive glass and on lobs. Nurkic is a good defender and great rim protector. The issue for him is staying out of foul trouble against Jordan, but that’s something that’s impossible to predict. DeAndre’s been awesome, statistically, this year and has a case for the Third Team All-NBA center spot. Despite Jordan having to adjust to Griffin’s return, he’s still managing to average 10.9 points, 16.0 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks. The larger issue is that he’s shooting just 32.1 percent from the line over that time and has generally looked bad up there during some games. Nurkic won’t play a ton but this little battle between these two big men could help pave the way to see who controls the paint during this game. Whoever does that will have a far easier night and road to victory than the other squad. As great as Nurkic seems to be in the future, it looks like Jordan should be able to win this battle in this game if he can crash the glass and draw fouls through sheer effort.

Wings of Prey
Did someone order up some wings? This game will most certainly have them. During the opening tidbit about the Nuggets, there was some brief talk about their recent lineup choice of starting both Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler together as the forwards. In theory, this could work offensively. Both can space the floor a little bit and both can be multifaceted players. Since the All-Star Break, even though he’s been a little up-and-down, Gallinari has managed to average 17.1 points on 41.6 percent from the field, 37.5 percent from three, and 89.5 percent from the line. He’s still only 26 years old, turning 27 in August, and has the capability to be a possible stretch four in this league now because of his shooting ability that he’s shown throughout his career. Just have to pray he stays healthy. Chandler is able to provide another versatile forward who can knock down some shots, rebound, and occasionally defend. It’ll be interesting to see how the Clippers combat that new look since Griffin will have to guard one of them early on while Jordan guards Faried. That is, of course, if Denver uses a lineup similar to their recent ones. On the Clippers front, what can we say about J.J. Redick that hasn’t already been said? Since the All-Star Break, he’s averaging 19.8 points on 48.5 percent from the field, 43.0 percent from three, and 98.1 percent from the line. He’s 75-for-76 from the line since January 1st and has made 43 consecutive free throws. Even more astounding? There are only two players in the NBA this year averaging at least 15 points with a 47-43-90 shooting line. One is Stephen Curry. The other is J.J. Redick. In fact, it’d be just the seventh and eighth instances of that feat since 1946-47. Others to do it are Mark Price, Peja Stojakovic, and Steve Nash (x3). This would be Curry’s second time. So, yeah, Redick’s pretty good. Last but certainly not least is Matt Barnes. While he’s only averaging 10.2 points this year, he is shooting 45.3 percent from the field, 37.6 percent from three, and 78.7 percent from the line. His 56.4 percent Effective Field Goal Percentage this year is a career high, as are his 58.5 percent True Shooting Percentage, 37.6 percent three-point percentage, and 126 made threes. Since the All-Star Break, Barnes is actually shooting 39.4 percent from deep. Barnes might be the Clippers glue. If the Clippers are to make a deep run in the playoffs, these two guys are as crucial as any other players.

Mile High Misfortune
The Nuggets were a trendy pick before this season to be a possible playoff contender. I even had them fighting for that final spot but ultimately missing out. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Brian Shaw was a disaster since he tried to handcuff a team that was better served being let loose rather than shackled. Ty Lawson, who has said that Shaw helped him become a better true point guard, is still better off running and gunning in an up-tempo system that allows him to take the gaps in defenses and dish accordingly. The other issues with Denver are that they have no rim protection outside of Nurkic, who is still young and learning the game. He didn’t take up basketball until he was around 14 years old. There’s also the Nuggets trying to incorporate Gallinari back into the fold after he missed the entire year last year, working Chandler in around him, and trying to figure out exactly what Faried is in regards to a position. Is he a four or is he a five? To anyone who can see straight, he’s a hyperactive four that needs someone behind him who can protect the rim. I don’t get the fascination with playing him at the five if you’re not going to run a super up-tempo pace and try to wear teams out. It seems counterproductive. That should be the theme of the entire 2014-15 season for the Denver Nuggets; counterproductive. I do like Will Barton for them, though. He’s been great for them and has finally unlocked some of that promise. Denver does have a future. Let’s not kid ourselves. Lawson, Gallinari, Chandler, Faried, Barton, and Nurkic will all be back next year. As will Gary Harris. The Nuggets are also in good position draft pick wise. They have a future Grizzlies pick coming, a future Blazers pick (probably 2016), and possibly a high draft pick from the Knicks in 2016 that could be swapped and then the less favorable pick would go to Toronto but that’d get too confusing to talk about for right now. All told, the Nuggets are in good shape. They just need to tinker a little more and get all the parts working properly. Perhaps a Mike D’Antoni hiring wouldn’t be all bad. On the bright side for right now for the Nuggets, that ”1-2-3, six weeks!” chant is down to ”1-2-3, twelve days!”

Connections
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. (By the way, that 2008-09 Orlando team that made the Finals might win that whole thing if Nelson was actually healthy and they didn’t have to rely on Rafer gotdamn Alston. Nelson was awesome that year and we got robbed of that.) 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. Most points Clippers head coach Doc Rivers ever scored against the Denver Nuggets in his career was 23 points back on February 2, 1991. Former Clipper Dominique Wilkins dropped 34 that night but the Nuggets beat the Hawks, 126-125. We don’t want a repeat. Especially since the Clippers haven’t won in Denver since April 18, 2012. And they’re just 2-5 there in the Chris Paul Era. I guess it could be worse. They had lost nine in a row in Denver prior to his arrival. Yay connections!

Wikipedia Entry
Chicken Nuggets are tasty treats that can be served to everyone short and tall, big and small, and enjoyed across the world. McDonalds just practically gives them away because they’re full of pink slime and whatnot but that’s whatever. We’re Americans. We eat that crap up. Literally. Golden Nugget is a casino in Las Vegas, Nevada and has been featured in such films as ”Diamonds Are Forever”, ”Smokin’ Aces”, and ”Next. Having been to Vegas quite a few times in my lifetime to gamble away money I didn’t have, I can say that this place was always great to walk into and sit down for a little while. Also, they have an amazing light show just outside under the canopy that envelopes the surrounding area. The Hand of Faith nugget is a gold piece that is worth approximately $1.27 million and weighs in at 875 troy ounces. It actually sat in the Golden Nugget casino in Las Vegas before now being on public display at another Golden Nugget casino in Laughlin, Nevada.

Prediction
112 100
The game starts off with the Clippers seizing control early on and taking a somewhat solid lead against the Nuggets before the bench starts to let it slip away just before the starters can come in and keep them afloat before halftime in the thin air. While the team gradually pulls away in the third quarter and creates roughly a 17-point lead, the bench once again screws that up and forces the starters to have to come back in with about seven minutes to go in the game to ice the game for good. Denver has some good and bad in this game, including a nasty Kenneth Faried putback dunk at some point. Also, Chris Paul and Jusuf Nurkic exchange words because, well, Paul is Paul and Nurkic takes crap from no one. For god sake, he taunted DeMarcus Cousins one time. Don’t we applaud him for that?
Team Leaders
Points: Blake Griffin (26) | Rebounds: DeAndre Jordan (18) | Assists: Chris Paul (14)