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Preview: Denver Nuggets head to Los Angeles to face Clippers

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For the first time this season the Nuggets face a Clippers team with title aspirations

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After spending the past three games at the Pepsi Center the Denver Nuggets are heading out on the road for a quick stay in Los Angeles for a game against the Clippers. In a bit of a weird schedule (and by a little weird I mean really dumb), the Nuggets head to LA, then back to Denver for one game and then back to LA for one more game against the Clippers and then back home again. Tonight’s match up really pits the schedule against the Nuggets when one considers the fact that they played last night in Denver but nonetheless the team is looking to continue their recent hot streak and steal a win in Hollywood.

The Clippers come into the game recovering from the news that star power forward Blake Griffin will need to undergo minor knee surgery and is not anticipated to return to action any earlier than mid January. While the surgery does not appear to be serious anytime a player goes under the knife mid season for a knee issue its reason to be alarmed. For the Clippers though the decision probably stemmed from a lingering knee issue for Griffin that they felt was better to get fixed now rather than run the risk of the injury becoming worse and keeping the former slam dunk champion out of the playoffs. After all, the Clippers truly have one goal this year and that is to win a championship. After a blistering hot start to the season they have cooled a bit but still are owners of an impressive 20-8 record which is good enough to keep them in fourth place in the Western conference. A tall task indeed awaits Denver tonight.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (12-16) at Los Angeles Clippers (20-8)

When: 8:30 PM MST

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles CA

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and Altitude Radio 950 AM

Rival blog: Clips Nation

Position Clippers Nuggets Advantage
PG Chris Paul Emmanuel Mudiay Clippers
SG J.J. Redick Gary Harris Even
SF Paul Pierce Danilo Gallinari Nuggets
PF Luc Mbah a Moute Wilson Chandler Nuggets
C DeAndre Jordan Nikola Jokic Clippers
Reserves Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, Marreese Speights, Wesley Johnson, Raymond Felton, Brandon Bass Jameer Nelson, Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Jusuf Nurkic Nuggets

Injury report: Blake Griffin - out (knee), Brice Johnson - out (back)

Key match up: Nikola Jokic vs DeAndre Jordan

Tempting to go Emmanuel Mudiay vs Chris Paul here but the Jordan/Jokic match up is also enticing. Jordan presents the type of player that Jokic has a tough time defending. Big, long, uber athletic, Jordan checks all the boxes and when Jokic has faced similar players this season (think Rudy Gobert) he’s been absolutely abused in the post. However, when facing anyone else lately Jokic has been an absolute monster on the stat sheet, filling up the points, rebounds and assists column and helping Denver get out to early leads. Jordan will be looking for lobs and putbacks on offense though so Jokic will have to do his best to contain the 6’11” center.

Key thing to watch for: Energy and effort

The Nuggets have a lot of good vibes going right now with the three game winning streak. The new starting lineup looks great, Harris has been epic in his return and Jokic is looking every bit like the budding star that he is. Still, a dose of reality tells us the Nuggets beat up on two mediocre teams and the worst team in basketball on the current three game winning streak. Now they are on the road on the back to back against a legitimate title contender. Getting blown out from the get go will make all those good feelings to go away. It’s a tall order but with Griffin out the Nuggets have a legitimate shot at winning tonight. If they lose a close game in the fourth quarter its not the end of the world but if they come out completely flat and embarrass themselves then all the good feelings will evaporate.

Opening thought: A good measuring stick

The Clippers are a superior team to the Nuggets, there’s no arguing that but, as I said, without Griffin they are vulnerable. I’m not expecting a victory tonight nonetheless but after winning three straight the talk of playoffs was back in the locker room last night. Well, the Clippers are the type of team you’re gonna face in the playoffs and if Denver is trying to get there to actually compete and not just collect a participation ribbon then the Nuggets should expect to play a competitive game against LA tonight. A win might not be in the cards, given the road back to back, but if this is a playoff caliber team they just might be able to steal victory tonight.