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Game Preview: Clippers Face Nuggets on the Road, 7th Seed in Sight

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The LA Clippers visit the Denver Nuggets, hoping to climb the Western Conference standings in the process.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information

Where: Pepsi Center - Denver, CO

When: 2:00 p.m. PST

How to Watch: Fox Sports Prime Ticket

How to Listen: AM 570

Projected Starting Lineups

LA Clippers: Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Ivica Zubac

Denver Nuggets: Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic

Injuries

Clippers: Wilson Chandler (Quad) - Out, Luc Mbah a Moute (Knee) - Out

Nuggets: Trey Lyles (Hamstring) - Out, Michael Porter Jr. (Back) - Out

The Big Picture

The LA Clippers, currently 8th place in the Western Conference with a 33-27 record (same record as the 7th place San Antonio Spurs, differentiated only by conference records), remain in the postseason hunt. The West is tight, and for the Clippers, the difference between the 5th seed and 9th place is virtually the same. With just 22 games remaining in the regular season, every matchup matters, particularly against conference opponents. The Clippers are 5-5 in their last 10 games, but have a relatively-friendly schedule ahead of them. Their trade deadline acquisitions and departures have also had a noticeable impact, and more time will be needed to allow this group to continue to learn how to mesh.

As they await the return of Wilson Chandler and Luc Mbah a Moute, the Clippers will continue to push ahead by committee, albeit behind some stellar play from their second unit led by Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. Doc Rivers is likely to continue employing 3-guard lineups, due to a combination of positional depth and collective size and versatility. Despite their mediocre play in the team’s most recent matchup, against the Memphis Grizzlies, Ivica Zubac and Landry Shamet have added a whole new dimension to the Clippers’ rotation; Zubac provides a much-needed combination of rim protection, pick-and-roll savvy, post play, and overall size, while Shamet provides a quick-release shooter who moves a lot off the ball, keeping defenses scrambling and struggling to communicate switches. Danilo Gallinari, now the team’s primary offensive weapon, will continue his consistently efficient season as they make their final postseason push. Patrick Beverley, the heart and soul of this roster, remains a two-way threat at all times.

Tonight will be the first of back-to-back games, and unfortunately for the Clippers, it will begin in arguably the toughest place to play on the road this season.

The Antagonist

The Denver Nuggets, currently 2nd place in the Western Conference and sporting a 40-18 record, are having an incredible season. They have the 4th-best win percentage in the NBA (.690) and rank 3rd in Offensive Rating, 6th in Net Rating, and 2nd in assists per game (27.7). And they’ve done it all with significant injury stretches from key contributors in Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, and Will Barton. With the recent return of Harris, and now only missing Trey Lyles and 2018 draftee Michael Porter Jr., the Nuggets are in great position to close out the season well.

2019 NBA All-Star Nikola Jokic, the centerpiece of the Nuggets’ offense, is currently leading Denver in scoring, rebounding, and passing, a stellar feat for a 7-foot center in his 4th NBA season. He’s averaging 20.4 points, 10.7 rebounds, 7.7 assists, and 1.4 steals in just 31.5 minutes per game. And he’s shooting 50.3% from the field, 31.0% from beyond the arc (on 3.6 attempts per game), and 85.2% from the free throw line. Having a sharp-shooting backcourt of Jamal Murray and Harris, a versatile veteran forward in Millsap, and a perennial sixth-man contender in Barton all make a huge difference, but Jokic is the engine for this group. Also of note, head coach Mike Malone is the brilliant tactician who has this group buying-in and playing team basketball by trusting one another (2nd in assists in the NBA, 5th-fewest turnovers).

The Denver Nuggets are 7-3 in their last 10 games, and currently riding a 3-game win streak. Health is now on their side, and with just 24 games remaining in the regular season, finishing the season atop the Western Conference is well within their grasp.

Notes

  • Expect free throw shooting to be a factor in tonight’s matchup. The Clippers currently rank 1st in the NBA in both free throws attempted (28.7) and free throws made (22.7) per game. Conversely, the Nuggets rank 25th in both free throws attempted (21.2) and free throws made (16.1) per game. Pace is certainly a component; the Clippers love to get out in transition and play downhill (9th in Pace), and the Nuggets do not (27th in Pace). Potentially problematic for the Clippers tonight, however, is that the Nuggets commit the 7th-fewest personal fouls per game in the NBA.
  • Tonight will be a rebounding mismatch for both teams. The Nuggets rank 1st in the NBA in offensive rebounding (12.3 per game), whereas the Clippers rank 9th in defensive rebounding (35.7 per game). The Nuggets have plenty of active front court size between Jokic, Millsap, and Mason Plumlee, a major advantage over the combination of Zubac, Harrell, and JaMychal Green. For the Clippers to pull out a win, they absolutely must prevent second-chance opportunities for the Nuggets.
  • Tonight will feature 2 of only 7 teams in the NBA to have winning records both on the road and at home. The Clippers play fairly consistently regardless of the location, going 16-12 at home and 17-15 on the road. The Nuggets, however, play significantly better at home than they do on the road; this has been the case for many years now, but they have a staggering 25-4 home record versus a 15-14 road record. Attempting to hand the Nuggets just their 5th loss at home this season will certainly be a mile-high task for the Clippers.

Be sure to check out the Nuggets perspective over at Denver Stiffs.