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Clippers Bury Nuggets, 119-102

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Playing without Blake Griffin, the Clippers rediscovered both their offense and defense, pounding the visiting Denver Nuggets.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

To honor tonight’s multi-pronged offensive explosion properly, I’ll let you choose your own lede:

In the Clippers’ first game during what is projected to be a 4-to-6 week stretch without star forward Blake Griffin, the three still-standing members of the Core Four picked up the slack left by their ailing teammate and then some.

JJ Redick sizzled from deep, canning seven of nine threes and scoring a game-high 27 points. DeAndre Jordan assaulted one rim and barricaded another. He finished with 13 points (6-7 FG), 13 rebounds, and numerous highlights. The smallest among them, Chris Paul, took up the heaviest load, falling two rebounds shy of a triple double (16/8/15).

***

The Denver Nuggets boast impressive depth, dressing nearly a full roster of players with legitimate claims for playing time. If only their starting lineup had played well enough to leverage that depth.

The Clippers showed their aspiring opponents the kind of execution required to reserve a regular seat at the Western Conference playoff table. Overcoming an underwhelming early performance by their bench, the Clippers’ starting lineup outscored Denver’s 77-42. Paul Pierce’s +28 plus-minus was the worst mark among Doc Rivers’ selected starters. Chris Paul helped the Clippers gain an advantage of more than a point a minute, racking up a +37 in 26 minutes of playing time.

***

On Rams Night at STAPLES Center, the Clippers showed LA’s new football team what a functional offense looks like.

The Clippers bombed away from three, but these deep shots weren’t Hail Marys. JJ Redick and company splashed a gratuitous 44.4% (16-36) of their threes and 54.7% overall.

The Clippers also schooled the Rams in an effective passing game, dishing 32 assists against just 12 turnovers.

***

Whichever way you’d like the story to begin, it ends the same way. The Clippers smoked the visiting Nuggets, 119-102. Looking tired from last night’s victory over the Mavericks at their high-altitude home, Denver submitted only one stretch of meaningful resistance before succumbing late in the second quarter.

Mike Malone’s offense, handcuffed by its inability to convert from deep and stiff-armed away from the basket by a towering DeAndre, plinked away from midrange. Will Barton, NBA Sixth Man contender, led from the bench with 22 points. Kenneth Faried, also a reserve, scored 15 on the strength of four offensive rebounds, one of the few ways in which Denver effectively created points. Denver’s 15-5 lead in offensive boards was one of few advantages in a lopsided game.

Chris Paul’s almost-triple-double will draw deserved plaudits — he controlled the tenor of the game for nearly every minute he was on the floor, even stealing two rebounds from 6’10” Nikola Jokic -- but it was DeAndre Jordan’s defense that was the primary catalyst in forcing the Nuggets into awkward in-between shots and creating a glaring difference in the teams’ field goal percentages. The Clippers shot almost 12% better than their opponents, and that number is weighed down by the meaningless fourth quarter. Stymied everywhere, the Nuggets fired away from deep, but converted just 11 (28.2%) of their 39 three-point attempts.

Danilo Gallinari led Nuggets starters with 17 points. Second-year point guard and 2015 seventh-overall pick Emmanuel Mudiay struggled MIGHTILY, missing all nine of his shot attempts and failing to score while adding just a single assist. Fellow starting guard Gary Harris managed just three points, all coming on one shot.

Every Clipper touched the floor, even rookie center Diamond Stone, who logged two minutes. Luc Mbah a Moute continued his offensive renaissance, scoring 14 on impressive plays both inside and out. Marreesse Speights led Clipper reserves with 10.

Next up for the Clippers: vs. the Spurs on TNT, Thursday night at 7:30 PM.