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Clippers vs. Nuggets Preview: Clippers Face Major Test in High Altitude

The Clippers take on the Denver Nuggets tonight on the road in their most challenging contest in several weeks.

Denver Nuggets v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Game Information

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado

When: 5:00 PM PT

How to Watch/Listen: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570

Projected Starting Lineups

Clippers: Patrick BeverleyLandry ShametKawhi LeonardMoe HarklessIvica Zubac

Nuggets: Jamal MurrayGary HarrisWill BartonJerami GrantNikola Jokic

Injuries

Clippers: Paul George Out (Hamstring), JaMychal Green Questionable (Knee)

Nuggets: Paul Millsap Doubtful (Knee), Bol Bol Out (Foot)

The Big Picture

Despite a recent bout of inconsistent and sloppy play, the Clippers’ record of 27-12 is good enough for second in the Western Conference and fifth best in the entire NBA. Kawhi Leonard continues to prove himself as good a player as anyone in the NBA on a nightly basis, ripping through defensive schemes while quarterbacking the Clippers’ defense on the other end. After a rocky end to 2019, Lou Williams has been dynamite in 2020, and looks as potent a scorer as ever. The rest of the Clippers’ supporting cast has been quite a bit shakier, but how much of that is playing down to competition and a still-developing chemistry is unknown. Regardless, while the short-term picture has been rocky, the long-term remains promising.

The Antagonist

The Nuggets have had a season quite similar to the Clippers. Coming into the season with high expectations, the Nuggets have faltered, despite a lofty record and some big wins. However, unlike the Clippers, their failures have been more tied to lack of growth from their young players. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, their two cornerstones, have stagnated, failing to improve on their numbers from last year, and both have shown some worrying tendencies (Jokic with lack of aggression, Murray by not taking enough threes). Gary Harris, meanwhile, has significantly regressed for the second season in a row, and no longer resembles the budding star of 2017-2018. The Nuggets bench, too, has fallen back, with both Monte Morris and Malik Beasley declining from breakout 2019 campaigns. Really, the only Nugget having a standout year is veteran wing Will Barton, who has been excellent on both ends of the court. That and Michael Porter Jr.’s flashes of special play have been two of the succors for Nuggets’ fans in what has been a somewhat trying year.

Notes

Kawhi Time: This is the Clippers’ first matchup against the Nuggets this season, but this is a game where Kawhi Leonard should feast. The Nuggets’ wings are all undersized against Kawhi, with the exception of Jerami Grant, and he should be able to either take his defenders off the dribble or bully them in the post. Kawhi is always a difficult matchup, but he’s particularly tough for the Nuggets, who might have to resort to double teams if Harris, Barton, and Grant can’t hold up. With Paul George out yet again, the onus of scoring in the first unit will fall on Kawhi once more, and he should be up to the challenge.

Stopping Nikola: The Clippers have had some trouble with guarding Nikola Jokic over the years. Ivica Zubac is an improved defender, but Jokic is canny and adept in the post, and Zu will need to be careful to avoid foul trouble. Montrezl Harrell can score against Jokic, but is too small to defend him. This could be a game where JaMychal Green (if active) or Patrick Patterson see big minutes to get some more size on the court against Jokic. The other method to defend him is to attack him on the other end and get him into foul trouble – Jokic is notoriously foul prone, especially when he gets emotional, and the Clippers could take advantage of that to negate the Nuggets’ best player.

Stepping Up: Despite their struggles this season, the Nuggets are an extremely good team. Denver is also one of the most challenging road environments in the NBA, and the Nuggets excel at their home turf in high altitude. There’s no reason the Clippers should be playing below expectations in this one against a Western Conference competitor on the road, so I’d prepare for a much tighter game from the Clippers in this one. If they don’t step up, they could get absolutely blown out, especially as the Nuggets are coming off a disappointing loss of their own and will assuredly be out for blood.

Robinson and Porter, Draft Companions: There’s always a weird tie between players who get picked close to each other in the NBA Draft. The Clippers, somewhat notoriously, selected Boston College guard Jerome Robinson with the 13th pick in the 2018 draft, skipping over the much higher profile Michael Porter Jr., who went one pick later to the Nuggets. Porter Jr. had medical red flags as well as some personality issues, a no-go from a Clippers’ front office that has prized off the court and locker room excellence in addition to on-court prowess. Porter sat out his entire rookie season, but has returned this year and demonstrated some flashes of incredible potential. There’s no doubt he can score, with his 6’10 frame and athleticism enabling him to shoot over defenders while also finishing at the basket. The issue lies with everything else – he’s not a playmaker, rebounder, or defender at this point in his career. Robinson, of course, has struggled as well. Billed as a scorer and shooter coming out of BC, Robinson has instead evolved into a defense and energy player who can provide a bit of ballhandling but can’t be relied upon to score a bucket. It’s very odd. Clippers fans might pine for Porter, but there’s still plenty of career to be written for both of these guys.

Well, this one should be exciting! The Clippers’ issues with effort and complacency hopefully won’t show up against the playoff-bound Nuggets on the road. If they do, it will be a long, long evening. Comment on the game (and the NFL playoffs, if you’re so interested) below!