The Clippers face the Nuggets today in the first of four games against teams currently in the top six of the Western Conference, a real murderer’s row of opponents for a team that is without four rotation players at the moment, and potentially five if Marcus Morris Sr. is unable to give it a go tonight.
That’s why even though the Clippers handily defeated the Nuggets the first time around in Denver, it’s hard to take away too much from that game. Four starters for L.A. are projected to be different, and the Nuggets have also swapped out Paul Millsap and Gary Harris for Will Barton and Aaron Gordon. This will be an entirely new test for the Clippers.
When: Thursday, April 1 at 7 p.m. PT
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
How to watch/listen: TNT
Opposing perspective: Denver Stiffs
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers (32-17): Reggie Jackson, Kawhi Leonard, Luke Kennard, Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris Sr.
Nuggets (29-18): Aaron Gordon, Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr., Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray
Clippers: Marcus Morris Sr. (right calf) — QUESTIONABLE; Patrick Beverley (right knee), Paul George (right foot), Serge Ibaka (lower back), Rajon Rondo (right adductor) — OUT
Nuggets: Monte Morris (left quad) — OUT
Denver is admittedly a much tougher opponent than Orlando was, but there are reasons to feel better about this matchup given the timing. The Clippers aren’t on a back-to-back, so they should have their legs in the fourth quarter, and they don’t have another game until Sunday, which could allow Ty Lue to stretch his best players for longer.
One of those players who will have go for extended minutes is Ivica Zubac. Unless the Clippers go small — and again, that presumes Morris is available — with two guards next to Morris/Nic Batum/Kawhi Leonard, then Zubac at center is the only way the Clippers can realistically defend Nikola Jokic. The MVP candidate averages 36 minutes per game, which would be Zubac’s career high, but Zubac has been ramping up in Serge Ibaka’s absence, hitting 35 minutes three times in the past two weeks.
The Clippers will miss Paul George’s defense on Jamal Murray, and it will be interesting to see if they stick with Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard in the starting lineup or input Terance Mann to help cover the Denver guard. The Nuggets also go shockingly deep, with six players who can capably chip in off the bench. Should they choose to make this a track meet, they could run the Clippers off the floor. Fortunately, that’s not Denver’s style. With Jokic at the hub, the Nuggets are far more methodical, and the Clippers can match that pace with their eight or nine-man crew.
Denver also tried to upgrade its wing defense at the trade deadline, though Gordon has never been that successful against Leonard individually. Whether that changes with more limited offensive responsibility is an open question.
The Clippers are always seemingly at their best when they’ve been counted out. Look for them to do the same tonight.