With home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs on the line for the Nuggets, there's no better time for the lowly Clippers - losers of 15 of their last 18 - to come to Pepsi Center. And here we thought the Nuggets were closing the regular season poorly.
As pointed out in Nate's terrific column from Friday, the Clippers sit prominently on "the list" of crappy NBA teams that the Nuggets weren't able to beat earlier this season. I was at that game in Los Angeles on November 20th when the Nuggets - well rested and facing a Clippers team missing their second-best player, Eric Gordon - laid an egg and lost by seven. The Nuggets would took care of the Clippers handily back here in Denver on January 21st, but I always had a hunch that that November loss would come back to bite us in the ass.
But while we should all be confident of a Nuggets victory tonight, this Nuggets team has taught us - the hard way - that nothing is assured with these guys. Especially with Kenyon Martin out, Adrian Dantley coaching the team and Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith shooting erratically from three-point range.
That said, a loss to the Clippers tonight would fit squarely in the "unacceptable loss" category. Not only have the Clippers lost 15 of 18 as noted above, but they're losing by large margins to bad teams. They've recently lost to the Raptors by 22, the Warriors by 18 (at home), the Kings by 13 (at home) and the Hornets by eight (at home). And I won't get into what good teams have done against the Clips lately.
The Clippers being the Clippers, their season ended long ago thanks to an assortment of jinx-induced injuries, notably to overall number one pick Blake Griffin. But all of their key players have missed time due to injury, preventing interim head coach (and former Nugget player and assistant coach) Kim Hughes from having a consistent lineup to work with. Not surprisingly, another season of NBA basketball has been lost for the Staples Center's other NBA team, a franchise that has won just one playoff series since moving to Southern California when they beat - you guessed it - our Nuggets back in 2006.
SCOUTING THE CLIPPERS...
-Mardy Collins: Collins will forever be a Stiff (or better put, an Isiah Thomas stooge) to me thanks to his involvement in the Madison Square Garden Melee a few seasons ago. Averaging 2.5 ppg on 37.6% shooting and collecting DNP-CDs left and right, Collins is having another forgettable NBA season.
-Brian Skinner: For the goatee alone, Skinner deserves a spot on the Stiff List.
-Baron Davis: Petulant and uncoachable since coming home to Los Angeles, Davis has missed the last two games due to "back spasms" and I suspect will shut it down for the remainder of the season. Have fun paying him $14.85 million three seasons from now.
-Chris Kaman: In spite of all the problems surrounding him, Kaman has had an All-Star season and has been relatively healthy for once.
-Drew Gooden: Gooden is on pace to have a Joe Smith-type career, already playing for his eighth NBA team. For his latest team, Gooden is producing, having pulled down double-digit rebounds in five straight games, including a 20-rebound effort against his ex-teammates the Mavericks over a week ago. Of course, if you're Drew Gooden, every opponent are your ex-teammates.
-Eric Gordon: Gordon seems to have succumbed to Clipperitis lately, having shot over 35% just once in his last eight games. But he remains a lethal threat from the outside and is surprisingly athletic on the inside, so beware.
Photo courtesy of AP: Jason Redmond