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Preview: Nuggets take on Los Angeles Clippers with playoff ramifications

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Will the Nuggets prove they belong?

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets have traveled to Los Angeles and will face the Clippers tonight in what is likely Denver’s most important regular season contest to date. Lately, the national discussion has centered entirely around the battle for LA, with tentative jumps to Houston to figure out what the Rockets are doing. The Lakers and Clippers, featuring LeBron James and Anthony Davis versus Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, has dominated the NBA landscape for the last six months.

The Nuggets have an opportunity to change that narrative tonight. On national TV, the Nuggets and Clippers will play in Staples Center for all to enjoy. The game should be highly competitive with a playoff intensity, and I’m looking forward to the discussion.

The Basics:

Who: Denver Nuggets (40-18) vs Los Angeles Clippers (39-19)

When: 8:30 p.m. MST

Where: Staples Center

How to watch/listen: AT STONEY’S DOWNTOWN, ESPN, AltitudeTV, 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Clips Nation

Expected Starting Lineups:

DEN: PG Jamal Murray, SG Gary Harris, SF Will Barton, PF Paul Millsap, C Nikola Jokic

DET: PG Patrick Beverley, SG Paul George, SF Kawhi Leonard, PF Marcus Morris, C Ivica Zubac

Injuries: Nothing major

Three thing to watch:

Starting Lineup mismatches

The Clippers feature two big wings that may be the biggest mismatch duo in the NBA. Very few franchises have the personnel to counter LA’s 6’10 shooting guard and 6’8 tank of a small forward. Denver’s wings, Gary Harris and Will Barton, are just 6’4 and 6’6 and more slight in stature. Can they play competent defense against Leonard and George? Will Denver have to change things up?

On the other side, how do the Clippers match up with Nikola Jokic on the interior? Jokic is playing the best basketball of his career, and nobody on the Clippers has a chance to stop Jokic when he’s at his best. Ivica Zubac has done well in the past, but this version of Nikola Jokic is just different. Montrezl Harrell doesn’t have the size or discipline to match up. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George struggle in the post defensively. Marcus Morris may be LA’s best chance, but at that point, the Nuggets have already changed the game.

Jamal Murray staying hot

The last time the Nuggets played the Clippers, they won, but Murray didn’t have a great game. He managed 19 points on 4-of-12 shooting and 10-of-11 from the free throw line, but two assists and limited defensive impact probably won’t cut it tonight. Patrick Beverley enjoys being a pest, and that’s the exact role he will fill tonight when matching up with Murray. Can Murray, who has been absolutely elite of late, deal with the ball pressure and stay effective throughout? Will he force the Clippers to switch George or Leonard onto him? It’s a unique chess match.

Battle of the benches

For the Nuggets to win a playoff series with the Clippers, they will have to win the bench battle. Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are great offensive players to come off the bench, but they struggle defensively. Monte Morris is playing really well for Denver right now, and Mason Plumlee has the capability to impact the game in a big way while facing Harrell at center. With Jerami Grant and Michael Porter Jr. also out there, the Nuggets will have the size off their bench to counter LA’s size in their starting unit. Can Denver take advantage?

Come to Stoney’s!

The Denver Nuggets and Denver Stiffs have partnered on a watch party tonight to watch the game at Stoney’s Uptown. The party starts at 7:30 and the game tips off at 8:30. I will be there personally and will buy you a drink if you come say hello. Let’s pack out the house tonight and watch the Nuggets game together!