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Clippers grind but fall to Nuggets 101-94

LA didn’t give up but it wasn’t good enough.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The LA Clippers dropped their second straight game, with a 101-94 loss to the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center Thursday.

Credit to the Clippers for battling the entire game and nearly overtaking Denver late, but they were clearly second-best for most of the night, and poor shooting and matchup issues plagued LA in this game.

Ty Lue started his recent first-choice group of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris Sr. and Reggie Jackson.

The Nuggets got off to a hot start and took a 17-9 lead in the opening minutes, with Denver newcomer Aaron Gordon making a mark. The Nuggets extended their lead, but LA chipped into it a bit, as the 1st quarter ended with Denver leading 31-20.

The 2nd quarter was more rough sledding for the Clippers, as their shooting remained poor and the Nuggets just played much sharper overall. But Nicolas Batum and Jackson hit 3-pointers to give LA some life and drop the deficit to single digits with about 4:00 before halftime.

But the Nuggets remained in control going into the break and led 62-49 at the half. Four Denver players were already in double figures in points, while only George — who had 10 points — hit that mark on the Clippers’ side.

The prevailing trends continued in the 3rd quarter, with the Nuggets not blowing the game open but still in firm control. It was notable that pretty much every Denver player except MVP candidate Nikola Jokic was burying shot after shot, but LA couldn’t match their shooting from range.

Leonard sought to continue driving to the rim to draw fouls, and before the long the rest of the team followed suit, trying to get back into the game by playing around the paint.

The Clippers once again chipped away at the Nuggets’ lead, getting it down to seven points, but yet again, Denver pulled further ahead, with the visitors leading 81-70 after three quarters.

But LA didn’t give up and managed to narrow the game to five points to open the 4th quarter, Zubac putting together several good plays in a row to lift the Clippers. Coming out of a timeout, Terance Mann continued his recent stellar play in driving into the paint, and he scored successive baskets to make it a one-point game.

But that was as close as it got, as the Nuggets recovered enough to stay on top. Leonard had 24 points, George had 17, and Mann chipped in with 20, another strong shift by the second-year wing. While one can wonder how different the game would have been with Patrick Beverley, Serge Ibaka and Rajon Rondo available for the Clippers, it certainly looks like the Nuggets offer some unique matchup issues for Lue’s team, especially with the addition of Gordon adding more size and athleticism to Denver’s lineup.

The Clippers are scheduled to be back in action Sunday when they take on their arena mates, the Los Angeles Lakers, for a matinee marquee matchup. The Lakers are unlikely to feature LeBron James or Anthony Davis, so this could be a good time to play the defending champs. Of course, being an afternoon game we’ll see if the Clips are awake for this one. Hopefully!