The nickname being floated around for Blake Griffin is "Poster Child" and the name suits his style of play perfectly. Griffin is a high flier that attacks the rim with an aggression that reminds me a bit of Kenyon Martin. In his last five games, Griffin is averaging 27.4 points and 14.2 rebounds. It'll be K-Mart's job to keep him in check tonight. Who has the advantage ... the kid or the veteran?
The particulars ...
Denver: 20-13 (5-10 on the road)
Streak: Won 4 and 6-4 in last 10 games.
L.A. Clippers: 10-24 (7-13 at home)
Streak: Lost 2 and 5-5 in last 10.
Denver: Al Harrington (dislocated right thumb) is a game time decision.
L.A. Clippers: Chris Kaman (left ankle) and Craig Smith (herniated disc) are both out. Brian Cook (right ankle) is doubtful.
Opposition's Take: Clips Nation
The Clippers head into Wednesday night's game after two disappointing home losses to the Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks. Both of those teams will be in the playoffs, a place where, on paper the Clippers should be as well and a place the Nuggets hope to return to.
On the season Denver holds a 2-0 series advantage on the Clippers, but now the four-game season series shifts to the Staples Center for the next two contests. Denver wont return to Los Angeles to face the Clippers after Wednesday's game until March 5th ... which is after the much discussed NBA trade deadline. So, this again could be the last game for Carmelo Anthony in a Nuggets uniform against Griffin and the Clippers. That's weird to think about.
But let's shift our thoughts to the game at hand, where there are plenty of interesting matchups to discuss. Who has the advantages?
Nuggets: Billups has been scorching hot since returning from resting his ailing wrist. He was named Western Conference Player of the Week last week and over his last seven games is averaging: 23.2 points and 4.8 assists. On top of that, over the same span he's 52-54 from the foul line and 19-29 from three-point land or 65.5% ... scorching hot.
Clippers: Davis is making $13 million this season and takes a lot of abuse for only playing hard when he wants to. He's been infamously heckled by his owner Donald Sterling during a home game and is averaging just 9.3 points and 6.5 assists this season in the 20 games he's played. Davis is a physical point guard at 6'3'' and 215 pounds, just like Billups and gets to throw alley-oops from halfcourt to Griffin ... no seriously watch this. Baron's show up/no show act must be tiresome to watch and who knows which Davis will show up tonight.
Nuggets: Afflalo is averaging a career high in minutes played this season with 35.6 mpg, an increase of nearly 8 minutes per game from last season's 27.2 mpg. AAA is important to what the Nuggets do. He's the best spot up three-point shooter on the team and his willingness to get out on the fast break allows the Nuggets to shift and play at a much faster pace when the opportunity presents itself. In four of Denver's last five games he's scored 14 points or more, but he totally disappeared in the Kings game on Jan. 1st. Afflalo is getting to that Billups territory where you know what you're going to get from him each night and you tend to forget about him because he's so consistent. He'll need to make Gordon work on the defensive end and stay with him on defensive end because Gordon can score.
Clippers: Gordon is probably one of the most underrated young players in the league. He averages 23.3 points and 4.6 assists. He's only 6'3'', but he plays much bigger than that and is fearless going to the rim and will dunk on anyone. I think his stature surprises people and unlike some guys on Denver's squad, he's an above the rim player when he needs to be. His outside shooting hasn't quite transitioned to the NBA three-point range, but sometimes it's takes guys a few years to get that going ... ask J.J. Redick. There is no doubt Gordon can score, but can Afflalo make him pay on the defensive end?
Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony vs. Ryan Gomes
Nuggets: It's Melo. He's going to shoot early and he's going to shoot often. He played against the Rockets with his right hand (mainly the thumb it looked like) slightly wrapped and banged his right elbow in that game. I've taken a helmet or two off the elbow and had a swollen bursa sac like Altitude's Scott Hastings was talking about during that Rockets game. It's not a fun bruise, but it really isn't much of a bother either aside from being sensative. Since coming back to the team Melo is averaging 23.5 shots per game (24.5 points), 10.5 rebounds and 3 assists (5 against the Rockets). You can't stop Melo ... Gomes can only hope to contain him.
Clippers: Gomes faced Melo plenty of times when he was with the Timberwolves and is used to Melo scoring on him. Gomes has also had some good games against the Nuggets like his 27 point effort vs. Denver last season on Nov. 29, 2010 in a T-Wolves victory. He's only averaged 3.5 points per game against Denver this season and hasn't done much scoring for the Clippers all season averaging just 7.4 points on the year. Knowing guys like to come up big versus the Nuggets, Denver better pay attention to Gomes tonight.
Power Forward: Kenyon Martin vs. Blake Griffin
Nuggets: K-Mart, like Jeff pointed out in this week's Weekly Optimism, is the Nuggets enforcer. In hockey, the enforcer uses his fists ... in the NBA the enforcer is no longer really allowed to fight so hard fouls are the best way to send a message (or a back screen like Hastings likes to point out). Martin has played in just 6 games this season and missed a game in Minnesota on Dec. 29th in an effort to monitor his minutes on the second game of a back-to-back. K-Mart's minutes have also been carefully watched as he's played in just 18.3 mpg since returning from off-season surgery. Against the Rockets he matched his season high in minutes played with 21 and scored 11 points and grabbed 6 rebounds. He may not be on the floor a whole lot Wednesday night, but when he is I expect him to make his presence felt for Griffin. I don't think Martin will send a message like Andre Miller did to Blake or even like Devin Harris did (watch this), but I expect Martin to do something to get Griffin's attention.
Clippers: Griffin is coming off a 31 point and 15 rebound night against the Hawks. Versus the Nuggets he's averaging 21.5 points on 50% shooting, 11 rebounds (4 offensive), 3 assists and 4.5 free throw attempts in 37 minutes. Martin is Denver's best defender and Griffin is the best highlight waiting to happen. I'm excited to see what transpires with these two on the floor together.
Advantage: Even (I just don't see Martin on the floor enough to be a big difference maker, but he will put his stamp ont he game when he's on the floor).
Center: Nene vs. DeAndre Jordan
Nuggets: Nene has two double-doubles in his last two games (16/14 and 16/11) and continues to impress with his aggressive play this season. He's looking to finish And1 plays instead of trying to just draw fouls. And once he gets to the foul line he's really making the opposition pay as his foul shooting has jumped from his career mark of 68.1% to 78.9% this season. He's averaging a career-high 5.7 free throw attempts per game and making a career-high 4.5 of them, which is helping to pad his career-high 15.2 points per game. Nene is so unselfish that he practically refuses to take double-digit shot attempts. In his 29 games played this year he's only taken double-digit shot attempts 7 times ... and the Nuggets are 4-3 in those games.
Clippers: Jordan has played in 34 games this season and started 25 of them in place of Chris Kaman. Jordan is just 22 years-old and wont be 23 years-old until July 2011 so there is a lot of head-room left in Jordan's ceiling. He's still pretty raw offensively and is averaging just 6.4 points and 6.5 rebounds. He averages 3 fouls per game and Nene will have to use his strength on a center who can match his quickness. But Jordan is not yet in Nene's class.
Nuggets: The second unit had been a great strength for the Nuggets the past couple seasons. This season with all the injuries and lineup shuffling the second unit has been a mix-and-match experiment for George Karl and the Nuggets. Members of the second unit have been responsible for some key wins, like the Rockets game, and for letting some big leads slip away (like in San Antonio on Dec. 22nd). If Lawson plays aggressive and the wings get out and run then the Nuggets transform into a different team and can really put a game out of reach.
Clippers: L.A. doesn't really have any big man options off the bench with the injuries to Kaman and Craig Smith as well as the release of Jarron Collins in favor of Ike Diogu. Bledsoe has explosive speed, Foye can score and Aminu continues to figure out the NBA game. The Nuggets could really take advantage of the game against the Clippers bench guys, but it's always easier said than done with Denver this season.
Nuggets: Karl has been pretty active recently with juggling lineups and barking at the refs. The Nuggets are on a roll having won four games in a row, they are not a very good road team thus far and will need to come with energy and take advantage of the Clippers mistakes.
Clippers: head coach Vinny Del Negro has the Clippers competing on a nightly basis. However, playing hard doesn't always result in winning games and the Clippers have lost two in a row at home. Griffin can get the crowd into the game with one big play, and it'll be up to the Nuggets to not allow the Clippers to take control of this game.
Advantage: Nuggets ... they're on a roll.
It's always a must watch for me when the Nuggets are playing, but even moreso with Griffin and Gordon in action. The Nuggets are tied with the Bulls and the Heat for the second most home wins in the NBA with 15 (San Antonio leads the NBA with 19 home wins). On the flip side, the Nuggets have only 5 road wins this season ... the same amount of road wins as the Pacers, Bucks, Sixers and Warriors and that's horrible company.
If Denver wants to make a serious push this season they'll have to start winning with regularity away from the Pepsi Center. Games like this one against the Clippers at the Staples Center are a perfect way to start turning the road tide.