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Game Preview: Hobbled Clippers Head to Denver to Face Nuggets

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With injuries woes still a factor, the LA Clippers will have their hands full against the Denver Nuggets.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information

When: 7:30pm PST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

How to Watch: TNT

Projected Starting Lineups

Clippers: (G) Tyrone Wallace, (G) Austin Rivers, (F) Tobias Harris, (F) Wesley Johnson, (C) DeAndre Jordan

Nuggets: (G) Jamal Murray, (G) Gary Harris, (F) Will Barton, (F) Wilson Chandler, (C) Nikola Jokic

Injuries

Clippers: Danilo Gallinari (hand), Avery Bradley (groin), Jawun Evans (abdomen), Patrick Beverley (knee)

Nuggets: Paul Millsap (wrist), Torrey Craig (hamstring)

The Big Picture

Despite being 9th place in the Western Conference standings, the LA Clippers are just a game away from 8th place and only 2 games out of 5th place. The 7th through 9th seeds are all tied in the loss column (27), as are the 3rd, 5th, and 6th seeds (26). In the West, a team could rise or drop multiple spots in a matter of hours. All the same, the Utah Jazz are just a game and a half behind the Clippers. Tonight’s game alone won’t drastically affect the overall standings, but a win will swap them with Denver for 8th place in the West...for at least a day.

The Clippers are 7-3 in their last 10 games, and a respectable 15-15 on the road (given their injury woes this season). Though they recently welcomed the return of Austin Rivers back into the starting rotation, they are now without the services of Avery Bradley (1-3 weeks) and Danilo Gallinari (day-to-day).

The good news: Lou Williams and Tobias Harris are coming off of 35 and 30 point outings, respectively, and can be relied upon to score in a variety of ways. DeAndre Jordan has also been a major factor as of late, putting up a double-double in each of his last five games and averaging 16.6 points, 15.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists during the same stretch.

The Clippers will need great contributions from Tyrone Wallace, Montrezl Harrell, Wesley Johnson, and Sam Dekker, who should all expect to see an uptick in minutes during tonight’s matchup.

The Antagonist

The Denver Nuggets are 24-8 at home, 21-19 against Western Conference opponents, and 7-3 in their last 10 games. And most of the damage has been done without star forward Paul Millsap, who could return very soon to an ever-improving roster. Nikola Jokic has become a triple-double threat on nightly basis, Trey Lyles is playing the best basketball of his young career (off the bench), and Will Barton is having perhaps his most well-rounded season as an NBA player. And the starting backcourt combo of Gary Harris and Jamal Murray has been sneaky-good; this season, they are combining for 33.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 2.8 steals per game, while shooting roughly 39% from beyond the arc on 5+ attempts per game.

Second-Chance Opportunities

The Denver Nuggets rank 2nd in the NBA in offensive rebounding this season, averaging 11.3 per game. From those boards, they have been able to manufacture 13.8 second-chance points per game, good enough for 4th in the league. Conversely, the Clippers rank 21st in the league in second-chance scoring by opponents, allowing 13 per game. Without Gallinari, they lose some size, and without Bradley, they lose a guard with a nose for the ball at the defensive end. The Clippers are already middle-of-the-pack when it comes to defensive rebounding, so they will need to step up their effort on the glass to give themselves an edge in tonight’s matchup.

Getting to the Line

The Clippers are the best in the NBA this season in drawing fouls, averaging 22.3 per game. They also rank 3rd in the league in free throw attempts, averaging 25.3 per game. Conversely, the Nuggets rank middle-of-the-pack in both fouls drawn and free throws attempted per game. Gallinari has been a huge part of the free throw shooting edge for the Clippers, and considering that the Clippers and Nuggets rank 3rd and 4th, respectively, in points in the paint, it will take some extra effort to get to the line. The Clippers will need to score aggressively early-on to help establish a downhill threat all night.

Final Thoughts

The Clippers face one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league, in a conference where the 3rd and 10th place teams are separated by a mere handful of games. Every game from now until the end of the regular season may have postseason implications, so the Clippers must take advantage of every opportunity they have, even without a fully-healthy roster. The contract statuses of Tyrone Wallace and C.J. Williams will leave some tough decisions for the Clippers to make in the coming games, and matchups like tonight’s could be major factors.