The Denver Nuggets were hoping to right the ship against a Los Angeles Clippers team who was also in the midst of a struggle. Both teams came into the game on three game losing streaks but unfortunately for Denver, the overall talent of the Clippers prevailed and the Nuggets were saddled with their fourth loss in a row. Superstars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul proved to be too much, while DeAndre Jordan provided some good interior defense to keep Denver from recording the W. Nuggets lose 111-94.
Coach Malone elected to start the game with Gary Harris defending Paul and Emmanuel Mudiay on J.J. Redick which didn't return great results early. Mudiay struggled to keep up with Redick coming off screens and he was able to get free for several easy shots in the first quarter. On the offensive end however Harris was making threes and Nikola Jokic, who got the start due to the plethora of injuries to Denver's frontcourt, was showing off his passing skills and filling the role of a point forward. The Nuggets were getting good ball movement and looking good. Jokic got himself into foul trouble though, mainly due to some generous calls from the refs, and the Clippers started moving the ball really well and hitting threes to push the lead to 20-14. Once Paul subbed out for LA though the tides turned back in Denver's favor. Danilo Gallinari was being aggressive and getting to the foul line and Denver had a rare solid close out of a quarter, finishing on a 10-0 run.
In the second Denver opened with a small ball lineup of Jameer Nelson, Randy Foye, Will Barton, Mike Miller and J.J. Hickson. That lineup struggled. The offense stagnated with players standing and watching while compounding their issues with poor rotations on defense. Hickson in particular was struggling as he was getting abused inside by Josh Smith. The silver lining to this lineup was Miller who did what Miller does and knocked down a pair of threes to keep Denver within striking distance. Once the starters came back in the offense started improving. Gallo continued to be relentless in his attack of the basket and drawing fouls which was good because he couldn't buy a bucket shooting from the field. Additionally, he was beasting on the glass and had double digit rebounds before the half. Mudiay had his best two minute stretch of the game by knocking down a short jumper, a three pointer and then following that up with a sweet dish to Jokic. The half closed with the Clippers up 51-45
In the third quarter Denver's rookie really started looking impressive and that rookie was Jokic. He opened with a pair of dirk-esque fall away jumpers and then a beautiful pass to a wide open Darrell Arthur. Unfortunately the refs continued to give Jordan the benefit of the whistle and some ticky-tack fouls got Jokic back into foul trouble. It was right around this point that Denver started to fade away. A nice Harris drive was erased by a monster Jordan block, Blake Griffin hit an alley-oop three pointer (not a typo) and the Nuggets started falling into their bad habits of settling for jumpers and playing sloppy defense. No one on Denver seemed to want to cover Griffin at the top of the circle and he hit that shot with regularity all night. The sloppy play continued right to the end of the quarter where the Nuggets had several chances to reduce an eight point deficit but fumbled away the ball and then Jamal Crawford hit a half court three at the buzzer to push the lead to eleven.
That shot by Crawford was really the dagger of the evening and in the fourth Denver came out flat and consistently had four players standing and watching at the perimeter while one guy hoisted up a contested shot. On defense they let Crawford get all the threes he wanted of a screen. Jokic played an outstanding game and Gary Harris who was able to hit threes with regularity was superb as well but the rest of the team wasn't doing much. With about five and half minutes to go the game degenerated into a hack-a-Jordan affair that did nothing to trim the deficit and only made for some heated exchanges between Griffin and Coach Malone which resulted in both getting technical fouls.
Key match up: Emmanuel Mudiay vs. Chris Paul
For my much ballyhooed match up this one turned out to be pretty much a dud. Mudiay had a so-so game. There were definitely some flashes in there but he recorded just four assists and seven points. Meanwhile Paul certainly seemed to have a quiet game but in true Chris Paul fashion still managed to put up a double double with fifteen points and ten assists while not giving up a single turnover (Mudiay had three).
Key thing to watch for: 3pt shooting
As noted in the preview, the Clippers are not shooting the ball particularly well from three this season but the Nuggets have some of the most atrocious three point defense in all of the land. It looked like Denver was in for another rough night defending the three point line with the Clippers opening up 4-4 from distance. They regressed back towards the mean somewhat and Denver limited them to eight total three point makes but LA still managed to register 40% shooting, significantly above their season average and right at what the Nuggets give up to their opponents.
No energy, no play.
For a second there it looked like Randy Foye was the guy who had been identified as the one who was losing his minutes when Miller checked in at the end of the first, but Foye ended up starting the second quarter on the court and both he and Miller registered 13 minutes for the game. The one guy who does seem to have lost his spot in the rotation is Kostas Papanikilaou, who only saw garbage minutes tonight, but I don't think you can attribute that to lack of effort. Kostas, in my opinion, has been one of the guys out there who plays his butt off when given minutes.
Prediction: Missed on this one as the Nuggets couldn't get the win, leaving them with a four game losing streak and yours truly with a six game losing streak...ugh.
Box score via ESPN.com