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Clippers vs. Nuggets Preview: Battle of Two Western Conference Playoff Hopefuls

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The Clippers take on the Nikola Jokic-led Denver Nuggets in the fourth game of the preseason.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information:

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California

When: 7:30 PM PT

How to Watch: NBA TV, Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570

Projected Starting Lineups:

Clippers: Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Boban Marjanovic

Nuggets: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris Jr., Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic

Injuries:

Clippers: Tyrone Wallace Out (Hip), Tobias Harris Out (Rest), Marcin Gortat Out (Rest), Luc Mbah a Moute Questionable (Leg)

Nuggets: Isaiah Thomas Out (Hip), Michael Porter Jr. Out (Back), Jarred Vanderbilt Out (Foot)

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are rolling in the preseason thus far with a 3-0 record and wins by margins of 19, 27, and 16. Both sides of the ball seems to be clicking really well, as the Clips are averaging 113.6 points a game over the three preseason contests while only giving up an average of 93 points. Starting forwards Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari (despite sitting out for rest purposes Saturday against the Lakers) have been particularly impressive, showing chemistry while sharing the floor and shooting the ball at a high clip.

Rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has shown poise and confidence thus far, running the offense smoothly and efficiently. His shot looks much improved from his only year at Kentucky and he’s not afraid to take open looks when he gets them. He is averaging 11.3 points a game in the preseason thus far and looks to be very much the point guard of the future that Jerry West and Steve Ballmer were envisioning when trading up to draft him this summer with the 11th pick. His ability to mesh with both first and second units has been impressive as well as is his ability to play alongside incumbent starter Patrick Beverley.

Besides game one against the Sydney Kings, head coach Doc Rivers has not been afraid to go to his bench for energy and output thus far. Montrezl Harrell has shown no signs of slowing up after signing an extension with L.A. this offseason. Do-everything guard Ty Wallace has shown continued flashes of big two-way potential, Boban Marjanovic has been dominating other teams second unit bigs and scoring with ease and Jerome Robinson, while he has struggled from the field, has knocked down a few shots. Expect for Doc to go deep on the roster again against the Nuggets, as it will be the second-to-last opportunity for second and third unit players to show their games before the roster needs to be cut down to 15 come October 15.

The Antagonist:

The Denver Nuggets have similarly been successful this preseason, posting a matching 3-0 record. Two of those wins came against the LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers, with their other win Friday night coming over Perth from Australia. The obvious player to watch out for from Denver is newly-wealthy (via a five-year, $148 million extension) Nikola Jokic. Prognosticators and NBA media are expecting big things from Nikola Jokic this season, as many expect him to take the next step into Western Conference All-Star conversation.

Similarly, young guards Jamal Murray and Gary Harris Jr. are expected to continue advancing their development and making some noise in 2018-19. The belief in Murray is particularly strong as last week NBA GM’s voted him to be the player most likely to have a breakout season in 2018-19. Harris has upped his scoring averages every season he has been in the league and is expected to once again improve in his fifth season. Also, be on the lookout for freshly re-signed Will Barton to be a huge two-way presence for the Nuggets this season, as well as for newly-healthy, four-time All-Star Paul Millsap to bounce back from an injury-plagued first season in Denver.

This Denver team is talented upfront, as second unit forwards Juan Hernangomez and Mason Plumlee have impressed in the preseason so far, and Trey Lyles is shooting the ball efficiently. This is a team that is talented enough to make the Western Conference playoffs with the pieces they have in place, but will need to finally put it all together in order to do so, especially on the defensive end. They have a lot of talent, both young and old, and a bonafide star in Jokic who can take his game even further with more focus on defense.

Notes:

  • Potential battle for the 8th seed?: While both the Nuggets and Clippers missed the playoffs last season, it was a close race between the Nuggets, Clips, and Timberwolves until late in the season. The Nuggets ended up winning 46 games to L.A.’s 42, and this year could bring more of the same as far as playoff competition in the west. Many are looking for the Nuggets to become a legitimate playoff team, even in a tough Western Conference, with a projected win total by Westgate Vegas of 47.5 wins. The Clippers come in way behind at 37.5 wins projected. This margin seems wide, and the Clips could surprise some people this season. Look for the Clips to potentially be in playoff contention throughout this season and for the Nuggets to be direct competition in doing so.
  • Preview of the first regular season game: Denver must really like Los Angeles this time of year. They already played the Lakers twice, both in Southern California, play the Clips Tuesday in Staples Center, then turn around eight days later and come back to Staples to play the Clips in the first game of the regular season. Don’t expect for this game to be super similar to what you will see game one. However, it will serve as a decent benchmark for what to expect from the Nuggets on October 17.
  • Bench player galore: Doc has been very proactive in resting his veterans so far this preseason. So far he has rested Lou Williams, Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari, and Patrick Beverley at least one game, and fans should expect this trend to continue Tuesday night. With only one more game, Thursday night against Maccabi Haifa from the Israeli league, anticipate seeing some of the Clips veterans to take it easy. We could see Doc taking Tobias Harris or Marcin Gortat off the floor for one of the next two games. Another reason why this will be important is because of the mandatory roster trimming coming the Clippers way on October 15. Who will get to see more minutes Tuesday night to gauge their worthiness on the roster? It will be an important trend to watch for from this team over the next two games.

Editor’s Note: Welcome Chris Murch to the staff at Clips Nation! After writing quality fanposts on CN for months now, Chris will be writing for the site in an official capacity, with this preview serving as his first post.