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Clippers vs. Nuggets Preview: LAC gets Another Chance to ‘Prove Themselves’ Against the West’s Best

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The Clippers and Nuggets face off in Denver for the first time this season on Thursday.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information:

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

When: 6:00 PM PT

How to Watch/Listen: Prime Ticket, AM 570 Radio

Projected Starting Lineups:

Nuggets: Jamal Murray/Malik Beasley/Torrey Craig/Paul Millsap/Nikola Jokic

Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander/Avery Bradley/Tobias Harris/Danilo Gallinari/Marcin Gortat

Injuries:

Nuggets: Isaiah Thomas (hip), Jarred Vanderbilt (foot), Michael Porter Jr. (back), and Will Barton (hip) are out. Gary Harris (hamstring) is questionable.

Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute (knee) is out.

The Scene:

It’s conceivable that regardless of what the Clippers manage to accomplish over the next four months, they will constantly remain in “prove yourself mode.” Despite overachieving throughout 2018-19, they enter the halfway point of the season on Thursday with seemingly more doubters than believers.

Maybe it’s because of the daunting West, or the perceived lack of a “star”, or because depth and chemistry underwhelm when drama is a more palatable way to gain followers and likes. Still, the Clippers (24-16) are in the midst of their third winning streak of three games or better this year, and with a victory on Thursday could hit the 41-game mark on pace for 50 wins.

Standing in the way is one of the league’s most formidable opponents: the Denver Nuggets, who at 27-12 are off to the best start in franchise history and own the top spot the West.

It’s the third matchup of the season between the two teams, and the first in the Mile High City. Most recently, the Clippers topped the Nuggets with a 132-point effort in L.A., and while the Nuggets are slowly getting healthier, they still remain one of the most injury-riddled teams in the league.

Two-way guard Gary Harris could miss the game with a hamstring injury, and swingman Will Barton remains out. But the Clippers have been on the receiving end of some opponent injury luck all season and it has done little to change their approach.

“I feel like there are definitely a lot of things that we still need to work on and get better at,” Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell said after the team’s 128-109 win over Charlotte on Tuesday. “[Such as] the lapses that we’ve had coming out in the second half and not letting guys take it to us at the start of the game. I feel like that’s going to come. Every team faces different challenges for us each night, so we just have to keep getting better.”

If it keeps up, at some point, they’ll no longer be proving anything to anyone but themselves.

The People:

1. Avery Bradley. Denver has relied on Jamal Murray to carry a burden of the backcourt scoring throughout the season, especially with so many injuries to everyone else. For the Clippers to succeed, they’ll need a similar effort from Bradley to what they got against Kemba Walker two nights ago. Bradley and Co. held the All-Star guard in check, and while Murray is not on Walker’s level, he’s still erupted for two games of 47 points or more this season and owns the team’s second highest scoring average (18.2 points per game). Of course, anything Bradley can provide offensively is also found money for the Clippers.

2. Malik Beasley. In his third season, the Florida State product has made a name for himself as a hardworking, athletic wing that can do a little bit of everything. He hit a couple of big shots in Denver’s 103-99 win over Miami on Tuesday and has become a consistent threat beyond the arc. He’s the type of player the Clippers have traditionally seemed to lose track of in their game plan over the years, which could make him prone for a big evening.

3. Nikola Jokic. I mean, that go-ahead floater with 2 seconds left on Tuesday that went 22 feet in the air as he barely jumped off the floor in the center of the lane might be enough to warrant his inclusion. But if that’s not enough, at 23, he’s the third youngest player in league history to topple 20 career triple-doubles and the youngest big man ever to do so.

The Turning Point:

It’s not a back-to-back, which are as brutal as any trip in the league, but braving the cold and the altitude to avoid a slow start will be huge for the Clippers. The last time they won the first quarter in Denver was April 4, 2015.

Take Note:

The Clippers are 3-3 in their last six games at Denver… The Nuggets have an all-time winning percentage of .543 against the Clippers, which is the most all-time against any opponent that they’ve played at least 100 times… Lou Williams recorded his 10th double-double as a Clipper on Tuesday… The teams meet again on Feb. 24, but a win Thursday would guarantee a season-series split...