Two games separate the Clippers from the start of the postseason, and their magic number to secure the No. 2 seed — and the right to face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round — is one. However, their opponent tonight could make the Clippers sweat just a little bit en route to that destination.
LA faces Denver in its penultimate seeding game, the current No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. If the Nuggets win out and the Clippers lose out, the two will swap places. Otherwise, this is the most likely playoff seeding.
Where: AdventHealth Arena, Orlando, Florida
When: 6 p.m. PT
How to watch/listen: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, Altitude, TSN1/5, KKSE 92.5FM/950AM, AM 570 LA SPORTS
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Reggie Jackson, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac
Nuggets: Jamal Murray, Torrey Craig, Michael Porter Jr., Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic
Clippers: Patrick Beverley (left calf) — OUT, Montrezl Harrell (self-isolation) — OUT, Landry Shamet (left foot) — OUT
Nuggets: Will Barton (right knee) — OUT, Vlatko Cancar (left foot) — OUT, Jerami Grant (right knee) — QUESTIONABLE, Gary Harris (right hip) — OUT
The Clippers and Nuggets have faced each other twice this season, each team winning on its own home court. However, while Denver faced a stiff challenge from a George-less squad at the Pepsi Center, the Clippers wiped the floor with the full-strength Nuggets in Los Angeles in February.
The two squads look a little different now. Perhaps no team was hit as hard by the coronavirus as the Nuggets, though the absence of their entire starting perimeter at the beginning of the restart has allowed for the emergence of Michael Porter Jr., who I placed on my (very preliminary) All-Seeding Games second team. Porter is averaging 23.8 points per seeding game on 72.2% true shooting, finally giving Denver the wing it has been looking for since the team traded away Carmelo Anthony. That could be a smidge hyperbolic, but the rookie forward has been an offensive revelation, even though old friend Robert Flom would be the first to tell you that Porter will be in for a world of hurt trying to defend Leonard or George.
Meanwhile, skinny Nikola Jokic — who looks like he’s back to his normal build in the bubble — is doing regular Jokic things, averaging 20.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 8.5 assists per seeding game while functioning as the team’s de facto point guard. A center that assists on 29 percent of his team’s possessions still boggles the mind, even as the NBA becomes more and more position-less.
Strong offensive centers can be a bugaboo for the Clippers, but Zubac has been other-worldly since recovering from the coronavirus. He has notched double-digit rebounds in four consecutive games for the first time in his career and set a career-high with 15 boards against Brooklyn. Zubac’s defensive rating in the seeding games is 106.2, behind only Beverley. He will be up for the challenge against Jokic.
That presumes that Denver is even trying to win this game. The Nuggets played the entire fourth quarter against the Lakers Monday with a second/third unit despite holding the lead at various points. They haven’t exactly shown interest in earning the two seed, and seem content to even fall back into fourth or fifth.
It’s hard to determine any team’s motivations with so few games left to play, but this could be very well be a second-round playoff matchup for the Clippers. Expect them to approach this opponent with a healthy amount of respect as they continue to build towards the postseason.