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Denver Stiffs staff predictions: Second Round versus Los Angeles Clippers

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It’s a championship caliber playoff opponent

Utah Jazz v Denver Nuggets - Game Seven Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

Well, it’s game day again.

The Denver Stiffs staff had as little break from writing about the playoffs as the Denver Nuggets had between escaping with a victory in Game 7 over the Utah Jazz and suiting up for Game 1 versus the Los Angeles Clippers. That ‘s not a complaint, but the turnaround is quick for everybody. Half of the staff didn’t want to think about the Clippers until the Nuggets defeated the Jazz, and they had to wait until the final buzzer of Game 7 in order to flip the page.

But now, it’s a new day and a new series. The Clippers are a drastically different opponent with more talent than the Jazz. They present unique challenges for the Nuggets positionally, and their best players attack the opposing team in completely different ways than Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Kawhi Leonard may be the best player in the NBA, and Paul George is no slouch, though he performed below is normal standard in the first round.

How will the Nuggets fare this time around? Here’s what the Denver Stiffs staff thinks will happen in the second round of the playoffs:

The Denver Stiffs staff:

  • Brandon Ewing - Senior Writer
  • Daniel Lewis - Writer and Contributor
  • Evan Fiala - Writer and Contributor
  • Gage Bridgford - Writer and Contributor
  • Gordon Gross - Senior Writer
  • Jena Garcia - Social Media Director
  • Jeremy Poley - Social Media Coordinator
  • Kayla Osby - Writer and Contributor
  • Nick Hertzog - Writer and Contributor
  • Quenton Albertie - Writer and Contributor
  • Reid Howard - Lead Moderator
  • Ryan Blackburn - Site Manager
  • Zach Mikash - Deputy Site Manager

Most Valuable Player

Analysis: Unless this is a sweep or gentlemen’s sweep by the Clippers (which admittedly there’s a decent chance of that) then even if the Nuggets lose there’s plenty of reason to think that Nikola Jokic still ends up as the MVP of the series. Kawhi Leonard is awesome, Paul George is a resident Nuggets killer but there’s a reason I’m picking Denver to pull off the upset in this series. Kawhi will get Gary Harris on him every step of the way, George will get former teammate Jerami Grant on him every step of the way. While I don’t expect those guys to stop the star duo, Harris and Grant will make them work for every bucket. I’m a big fan of Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell, but Zubac isn’t going to stop Jokic and Harrell was a very late arrival to the bubble and gives up 4” in that matchup. Joker had 17/7/13 in 21 minutes in the one game between these two teams in the bubble, 20/15/6 in 31 minutes in Denver’s lone win against the Clippers this season and 21/9/2 in 25 minutes in the other loss to L.A. His per 36 numbers against the Clippers are off the charts and given he’s likely to be close to averaging 40 minutes a game this series, his playoff numbers against the Clippers will be off the charts as well.

- Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash)

Best Matchup

Analysis: I think the most important matchup is Gary Harris vs the duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. I’m not sure which one he will be tasked with guarding or if they plan on having him switch back and forth. Paul Millsap just doesn’t have the speed to guard either of those guys, and we saw how much of a difference Gary made in Games 6 & 7 when he came back. These two guys are on a different level than Donovan Mitchell, so he’ll need to bring a special level of play into this series on that end of the floor.

- Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL)

Nuggets X-Factor

Analysis: In Round 1, Michael Porter Jr. was not as explosive and consistent on offense as he was in the 8 seeding games leading up to the playoffs, but he still did a lot of really positive things for the team. He’s proven to be arguably the best rebounder on the squad, and regardless of how he’s shooting on that particular night, it almost feels like every three that he takes is going to go in. This series, I’m predicting that he’s going to find his rhythm once again on offense, and if that’s the case, I predict he will end up being the difference maker to allow the Nuggets to take their game to the next level. I think MPJ will be playing with a newfound confidence after completing his first playoff series and learning from all of the little mistakes that he made on both ends of the floor in the first round, so hopefully all of that pays off and we see the version of MPJ that existed in the final 8 regular season games in the bubble.

- Kayla Osby (@nuggetchica)

High Scorer

Analysis: Jamal Murray will drop 50 points on Patrick Beverley and the Clippers, and it’s going to be glorious. I’m not going to predict what game it’ll happen in, but Murray is on fire and I believe they will carry on into the Clippers series. Murray has also struggled with the Beverley matchup in the past, so I think he will take that personally and show out throughout the series.

- Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717)

Clippers X-Factor

Analysis: Montrezl Harrell is undeniably one of the best bench players in the league and playing center primarily, he’ll either draw the assignment from Nikola Jokic or Mason Plumlee. Although Trez averaged just 9.0 points per game against the Dallas Mavericks, he averaged 18.6 points per game in the regular season and if what they say about players regressing (or progressing, in this case) to the mean proves true, that’s a cause for concern. Against a Denver defense that is much improved, Harrell may not have bounce back performances, but he has as much of a chance — if not the best chance — of any role player to be an impact player.

- Quenton Albertie (@qshironalbertie)

The Michael Porter Jr. question

Analysis: We’ll say a 7. Can MPJ use his length against a squad that can go with bigger wings (and better defenders) than Utah was able to deploy? I feel like he can. Will he be able to defend players like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George? Denver doesn’t really have wings outside of Torrey Craig with the right size/speed mix, but he certainly grew even over the Utah Jazz series as someone who could commit to giving defensive effort and fighting for rebounds. Will Denver actually put faith in him to be their third scorer and give him a ton of crucial minutes? There’s the rub.

Denver unfortunately needs him to be able to survive some terrific defenders that can give him all kinds of grief and be able to stay on the court to battle for rebounds and second chance points while stretching the floor for the rest of the offense - but they won’t know if he can do that unless they put him out there and risk it. They played him down the stretch in crucial moments and won games in the Utah series, and pulled him for the final quarter and a half of Game 7 and almost lost a huge lead. MPJ feels like the sort of player who rewards whatever level of faith you put in him. If you don’t trust him, he doesn’t perform. If you do... well let’s hope the Nuggets have some faith, because they need the best version of him against the Clippers, rookie or not.

- Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs)

Who wins?

Analysis: Not a soul outside of Denver will give the Nuggets a chance against the big, bad Clippers. But what most national pundits don’t understand is that the Nuggets play their best basketball with their backs against the wall and when they can play freely with no pressure. That will be the case this series - they aren’t favored to win, so they can just go out and play loose basketball. However, Los Angeles has Kawhi Leonard. Dating back to 2017, Kawhi Leonard has won the last seven playoff series he’s played in. Denver will be competitive enough to make it more of a series than some might think, but I’m fairly confident that Leonard will ensure the Clippers advance. Clippers in 6.

- Evan Fiala (@eefiala)