Injuries have plagued this year’s Clippers.
Whether it was losing superstar Kawhi Leonard to an ACL injury or rookie Jason Preston before the season, the Clippers started the year not at full strength.
Things didn’t get any better for them.
They missed the likes of Marcus Morris Sr., Nicolas Batum, and Serge Ibaka in different key moments of the season.
Now, they’ll play without their best player to yet another injury: Paul George will be out three to four weeks with a torn ligament in his elbow.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that a win is unlikely for this injury-stricken team.
When: Sunday, December 26 at 6 p.m. PT
Where: Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, CA
How to watch/listen: Bally Sports SoCal, AM 570 ESPN
Opposing perspective: Denver Stiffs
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Eric Bledsoe, Luke Kennard, Nicolas Batum, Terance Mann, Ivica Zubac
Nuggets: Monté Morris, Will Barton, Jeff Green, Vlatko Cančar, Nikola Jokić
Clippers: Paul George, Isaiah Hartenstein, Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris Sr., Kawhi Leonard, Jason Preston — OUT
Nuggets: Aaron Gordon, JaMychal Green — PROBABLE; Bol Bol, P.J. Dozier, Markus Howard, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. — OUT
Someway, somehow the Clippers have been a solid team all year, a persistent that won’t back down to any team, contender or not.
Nearing the end of December, they have been gaining momentum into a new year — they are averaging 106.3 points on an improved 46.2 percent shooting from the field in December. That’s a large step up from the month of October: they averaged just 102.8 points on 42 percent shooting.
But give credit to the team’s suffocating defensive presence for their comfortable place in the fifth seed in the wild Western Conference.
While the team has a poor offensive rating of 105.9 (26th in the league), the defense has been exceptional, to say the least. They are fourth in defensive rating with an impressive 105.3.
Agile and tough defenders like Eric Bledsoe and Batum have shown they can give any opponent a hard time in the perimeter. In the paint, Ivica Zubac and Isaiah Hartenstein have towered over opposing big men and cutting guards, blocking shots left and right. And we can’t wait to see “Iblaka” back in action, meeting players at the rim.
AIR IBAKA!— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) December 23, 2021
@BallySportWest | @sergeibaka pic.twitter.com/S7QtkAQOQm
The Clippers, however, might need more than just defense to come out on top against the Denver Nuggets — especially with George on the sidelines.
The Nuggets’ first option, Nikola Jokić, is posting up a stellar 25.9 points (7th in league) and 13.5 rebounds (2nd in league) per contest and leads the league in Players Impact Estimate (23.5).
Using their length and defensive mobility in the paint, the Clippers should look to stuff high-percentage shots and box out the likes of Jokić and Jeff Green. Lucky for the home team, the Nuggets are not the best at beating defenders down the court and capitalizing off of fast breaks. Nor are they the best at rebounding (with the exception of Jokić, of course): they and second worst in the league.
On the offensive end, the Clippers will need a bit of a push from an efficient scoring night from Terance Mann and a sharp-shooting Luke Kennard. It’s when the Clippers make it rain from deep and have offensive spurts off the bench that the team plays their best basketball.
The last time the Clippers hit the 120-point mark was Nov. 14 (they had three in November). The L.A. team, I hope, will gift us a belated Christmas gift — a 120-point scoring explosion might not be too different from what I had on my wishlist.