There is a routine I have when looking ahead to the next Los Angeles Clippers game. First, I’ll check the team’s recent results; a move designed to identify any patterns in their form that I wouldn’t have otherwise spotted while going game by game. Secondly, I’ll pull up the opponent’s last few games for similar reasons to the above, but also because theirs are more likely to have passed me by. Then, and this may be a product of this crazy season we’re witnessing, I’ll check the injury reports for both teams. That’s where I was stopped in my tracks this time around.
The top two names on the Denver Nuggets injury report stood out the most to me: Austin Rivers and JaMychal Green. Both are of course former Clippers and hold very particular places in this franchise’s history.
Let’s start with Austin Rivers. It still angers me whenever I see the same lazy narrative being peddled that he got his start in the NBA because of his dad. It was at its fiercest when he was traded to Doc Rivers’ Clippers, but anybody who watched him on the team for the following three seasons can help dispel those myths. He did everything in his power to make it so. Whenever he had to step up in the absence of starting point guard Chris Paul, or later when he became the main man himself, he played with that same steel of a guy with a point to prove. That “we’ll show you” mentality is still a factor for this current team. Write them off at your peril. Just stop writing off Rivers.
Now for JaMychal Green. Man, I miss J-Myke. It’s tough because his departure paved the way for Nicolas Batum’s arrival, and there are few people I’d rather have on our side than the French knight. However, Green is the sort of prototypical role player that I find myself getting so attached to. He was just that for the Clippers; the guy that you could rely on to give you an offensive spark off the bench, and an underrated defender too. He played just as hard on both ends of the floor, and he was one of the dogs that gave this team the edge over so many opponents who couldn’t handle that kind of heat. Green brought all the smoke, and the current roster still prides itself on that tough outer shell he helped to carve.
When: Wednesday, January 19 at 7 p.m. PT
Where: Ball Arena, Denver, CO
How to watch/listen: ESPN, AM 570
Opposing perspective: Denver Stiffs
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Reggie Jackson, Amir Coffey, Terance Mann, Serge Ibaka Ivica Zubac
Nuggets: Monte Morris, Will Barton, Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green, Nikola Jokic
Clippers: Nicolas Batum, Paul George, Keon Johnson, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris Sr., Jason Preston, Jay Scrubb — OUT
Nuggets: JaMychal Green, Vlatko Cancar, Michael Porter Jr., Jamal Murray, Bryn Forbes — OUT
Why is any of this relevant when one or two of these guys may not even play? Well, that’s just the point really. This is another matchup between the Clippers and the Nuggets that may come to be defined by what it doesn’t have. No Kawhi Leonard or Paul George, and no Jamal Murray or Michael Porter Jr.
However, what it does have is the reigning Most Valuable Player, Nikola Jokic, and a team on the opposite end of the floor that will be fighting with everything they’ve got. A team that won’t take being written off lying down. A team that will continue to bring all the smoke.
Since the low-scoring affair between the two franchises just over a week ago, the Clippers have a 1-2 record while the Nuggets have a 2-1 record. Yet both sides know that come tip-off time, none of that will matter. It will be all about who can put up the better fight on the night. The Joker and his supporting cast will be ready for a battle, they’ve shown as much so far to keep themselves above .500. Ty Lue’s team must now do the same to get back to that level, and their journey back towards full health — minus the main guys, of course — should be a source of increased hope that they can still have a successful season.
If that comes to pass, we’ll no doubt celebrate the mentality of this squad. If/when we get that opportunity, we shouldn’t forget those guys who paved the way. From Rivers to Green. A toast to the guys who gave us a dog in this fight.